The Japanese government approved Tuesday a bill with proposed changes to the road traffic law that would impose harsher penalties for road rage incidents as well as measures to reduce the number of fatal accidents involving elderly drivers.
The proposal obliges drivers aged 75 or older with records of traffic offenses to pass a driving test when renewing their licenses and creates a limited license for drivers on the condition they only operate cars equipped with advanced road safety features, such as a brake to prevent unintentional acceleration.
The government aims to have the bill enacted during the current parliamentary session so that the stricter road rage penalties will take effect this summer and the measures impacting elderly drivers in fiscal 2022.
“The number of accidents involving road rage and elderly drivers has become a major social problem. The government will do its best to have the bill enacted,” said Ryota Takeda, head of the National Public Safety Commission, at a press conference.
According to Japan’s National Police Agency, the bill defines road rage as “obstructive driving,” which includes aggressive tailgating and horn use. Driving on the wrong side of the road, sudden braking and weaving between lanes in an aggressive manner are among other dangerous acts that can be categorized as road rage.
Penalties for such obstructive driving will be up to three years in jail or a maximum 500,000 yen ($4,600) fine. Dangerous driving on an expressway will bring up to five years in jail or a maximum 1 million yen fine, according to the bill.
Current penalties for aggressive tailgating on expressways are up to three months in jail or a maximum 50,000 yen fine.
According to police data, there were a total of 15,065 ticketed violations for tailgating last year across the country, up 15.7 percent from the previous year. Of all tailgating cases, more than 90 percent occurred on expressways.
As for the steps to ensure safe driving by the elderly, those with records of offenses such as ignoring traffic lights and speeding will have their driving skills tested. Those who pass the practical driving examination will also have their cognitive functions tested.
Those who do not pass will not be able to renew their licenses, but they will be permitted to have multiple attempts at the test.
The limited license for drivers of vehicles with advanced safety features would provide new options for seniors currently considering the voluntary return of their drivers’ licenses and for drivers of any age group who are not fully confident in their ability to operate a vehicle.
The number of fatal accidents caused by drivers aged 75 or older stood at 401 in 2019, accounting for 14.4 percent of the total, slightly lower than a record high seen the previous year, according to police data. Despite the fall, the figure is still considered worryingly high given the nation’s rapidly aging population.