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LMC Auto Blog - The impact of elderly drivers on vehicle sales in Japan

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By LMC Auto Analysis Team

Oxford UK; The discussion about the number of traffic accidents caused by elderly drivers has been heating up recently in Japan. The country’s rapidly expanding elderly population means that we are seeing a rise in the number of road accidents caused by older drivers. This, in turn, could lead to a major decline in vehicle sales over the longer term.

We first broached this subject in July 2018 in our blog post ‘Decreasing Drivers’. To expand on this issue, however, we must look back to 2001, when a policy was first implemented that required all road users over the age of 70 to attend a seminar on driving. The contents of this seminar have been revised over time but, unfortunately, the number of accidents has continued to rise and the current consensus is that further action is required.

The police department is actively encouraging drivers over 70 to voluntarily hand in their licence and quit driving altogether. Public opinion is also putting pressure on the elderly, many of whom have stated that they would be prepared to give up driving if alternative transportation methods were made available, especially in rural areas.

A sample survey, published by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association in 2018, identified the following:

  • 32% of all drivers who owned their own vehicle were over the age 60
  • 31% of motorists over the age of 60 planned on driving until the age of 75
  • 40% of motorists over the age 60 intended to drive until the age of 80
  • The average lifespan of a new vehicle remaining under first ownership is 8 years

This last finding means that 32% of drivers are purchasing their final car in their mid-60s or early 70s. If elderly drivers succumb to societal pressure and stop driving at the age of 70, this ‘last car demand’ would almost completely disappear and could significantly impact vehicle sales, especially in a country with such a fast-ageing population.

But there is another way to address the situation. The majority of accidents in Japan are caused by rapid acceleration or hard breaking – issues that are far less prevalent in Europe where the majority of cars are fitted with manual transmissions. Some regional governments in Japan offer financial support for elderly drivers to have equipment installed that is designed to prevent these mistakes.

Looking at the wider picture, advanced driving support systems and Autonomous Vehicles would make a significant impact on reducing the number of accidents – not just for the elderly, but across the generations. The cost of these technologies, however, is prohibitively high – at least for the time being.

For now, the most expedient solution to reducing the number of accidents is simply to encourage elderly motorists to give up driving if they are a potential danger to other road users. Looking at the problem from the perspective of an automotive analysts, however, my expectation is that these sophisticated technologies will eventually be made available to all drivers in Japan, making the roads safer for everyone.