Car travelling down sidewalk highlights Japan’s problem with old age and driving
Laughter on social media gives way to concern that 57,000 licensed drivers in country have some form of dementia
A viral video showing an older woman driving along a sidewalk in Japan – fortunately without incident – has highlighted the country’s struggle to halt a worrying rise in the number of accidents involving ageing drivers.
The clip has been viewed 6.8 million times and received 213,000 likes since it was posted on Twitter on Tuesday. It shows the woman as she drives her light silver hatchback along a wide sidewalk in the town of Nobeoka in Miyazaki prefecture, south-west Japan.
Two men in a passing car, one of whom filmed the encounter, are heard voicing disbelief when they come across the vehicle, then laughing as it becomes apparent that the elderly driver is oblivious to the potential danger ahead.
Livedoor News speculated that the driver was in her 60s or 70s and had mistakenly mounted the sidewalk after leaving a nearby supermarket.
While many online commenters saw the funny side, others criticised the men for not attempting to warn the motorist, who was driving at around 40km/h (24mph) and accompanied by another woman who appeared to be around the same age.
Another user, noting that the incident occurred in a rural area, said the lack of train and bus services meant older people had no choice but to drive cars: “It’s all very well asking older drivers to hand in their licences, but you can’t live in the countryside useless you have a car.”
The comment was a reference to a police campaign to persuade elderly drivers to relinquish their licences amid a rise in accidents involving older motorists, including those showing the symptoms of dementia.
Many of the accidents involve drivers mistaking the accelerator for the brake, and driving the wrong way along motorways after entering via interchanges and toll booths.
According to a police report published in 2018, about 57,000 Japanese drivers aged 75 and over showed signs of dementia when they renewed their driving licences during the 12 months to the end of March. Under a change to road safety laws introduced in 2017, drivers suspected of having the condition are required to see a doctor.
While the number of traffic deaths in Japan fell to a record low last year, police are concerned that the number of accidents – some of them fatal – involving older drivers is increasing, with the number expected to rise further as the country’s population continues to age.
According to the health ministry, more than 4.6 million Japanese are living with some form of dementia, with the total expected to soar to about 7.3 million people – or one in five people aged 65 or over – by 2025.
In 2017 a record 253,937 older drivers voluntarily gave up their driving licences, according to the Japan Times.
To view images and the video check out the Guardian website