Posts Tagged ‘traffic violations’

Can financial incentives put a brake on senior driving?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Two weeks ago a lawyer in Chiba was cited for leaving the scene of an accident. He had hit a pedestrian with his car but later told police he didn’t notice anything odd at the time the accident occurred. The police believe him because he’s 81. The victim was also “over 60.” This may be a pattern we have to get used to. According to the transport ministry, more than 6,000 traffic accidents a year involve a driver confusing the brake for the accelerator. Though the ministry doesn’t break this particular statistic down into age groups, it does report that in 2010 there were 0.5 traffic accidents per 10,000 drivers between the ages of 25 and 54, and 3.3 accidents per 10,000 drivers over the age of 75. In the same year 106,000 of the 724,000 traffic accidents were caused by drivers over 65, while 50.4 percent of the people who died in traffic accidents were over 65, both new records.

Caution, geezer on board: ochiba (fallen leaf) car decal identifying elderly driver, now replaced with a more ambiguous design

Consequently, a number of local governments have been trying to convince elderly residents to surrender their drivers licenses, and have turned to financial incentives to do so. Ichihara city in Chiba Prefecture will launch a program in February wherein “old people” (no actual age is designated) who voluntarily give up their licenses will receive in return an identification card that allows them a 10 percent discount with 17 taxi companies operating in the city. Normally, municipalities offer discounts for bus rides, which may not sound like much of a trade-in considering that, traditionally, many local governments actually subsidized public transportation for elderly riders, in many cases giving then free passes. That time-honored practice started disappearing as the percentage of elderly, especially in rural areas, steeply increased over the past two decades. Local governments just couldn’t afford to pay for all those fares.

But driving could become even more dangerous as the baby boom generation enters its twilight years. Among previous generations, the driving population was mostly limited to men, but among boomers there are just as many women behind the wheel, which means there will soon be a sudden steep increase in the number of elderly drivers. In addition, insurance companies want to increase premiums for older drivers. Many of these people consider their drivers licenses more than a necessity, so local police departments issue unten keireki shomeisho, or “certificates of driving history,” a form of ID that looks just like a drivers license but isn’t. The psychological effectiveness is questionable, but in any case it is this card that can be used for discounts when using taxis or public transportation. To make the card more attractive, local merchants in Shizuoka Prefecture have agreed to offer discounts to anyone who produces one (rather than a bona fide drivers license). Last year in Kagawa Prefecture, 976 people gave up their licenses, a threefold increase over the previous year owning to a new discount service provided by the local taxi union and a special low-priced IC bus card especially for older patrons.

A university professor who specializes in “traffic sociology” told Nishi Nihon Shimbun that local government’s face a very real problem of guaranteeing old people mobility in the future. If public transportation isn’t available and affordable, then the elderly are going to drive as long as they possibly can, a possibility some carmakers are trying to take advantage of. It’s basically up to friends and relatives, and not just the local authorities, to convince them to give it up “without hurting their pride.” Economic incentives may be a good way to convince them, but first bus and train lines have to be substantialized and taxi service increased.

Auto-correct: Police getting more serious with parking scofflaws

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

‘Tis the season to try to become better for a new year. Often it starts with little things, like squaring debts. The police in Miyagi Prefecture, however, are taking no chances. They’ve just announced a new strategy to force car owners with outstanding parking tickets to pay up: Cars that have been impounded as “abandoned” will be auctioned off on Yahoo.

Don't even think about it

As in most countries where automobiles are widely used, Japan struggles with the problem of where to put them when they aren’t in motion. In fact, given its perennial space difficulties, it’s probably more of a problem in Japan, which explains why parking violations are, administratively at least, on a par with moving violations. If you’re caught illegally parking it goes down on your driving record, which is not generally the case in most other developed countries. That said, people with parking tickets seem just as likely to blow them off because the police don’t always have the time or resources to pursue scofflaws.

Fines for illegal parking are ¥15,000 or ¥12,000 for a regular passenger car, depending on the place and how long the vehicle stays there. It’s more for large vans and trucks (¥21,000 and ¥15,000) and less for motorcycles (¥9,000 and ¥7,000), though not as much as it is for “stopping” in traffic. If the car is towed, the violator also has to pay for the towing fee (about ¥14,000 in Tokyo) and storage costs (whatever the garage or lot happens to charge). However, according to an article in the Tokyo Shimbun, often when people show up to claim their vehicle, the operators will release it to the person even if he or she doesn’t have the cash to pay. They simply send the person a bill, which few, it seems, end up paying.

Miyagi Prefecture has more than 2,200 cases of unpaid parking fines comprising more than ¥30 million, which isn’t a lot in the scheme of things but apparently many police departments at the local level rely on fines to subsidize certain police functions, especially with regards to traffic safety. All traffic fines nationwide are collected by the Bank of Japan, and twice a year these funds are divided up according to population and number of traffic accidents and sent back to the prefectural police departments.

Continue reading about auctioning impounded cars →

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