Monday, 24 November 2008

After 75 no one fails a driving test

Awaji Island, where I am currently staying, is linked by very grand bridges to the main Japanese island Honshu in the North and one of the three other main islands , Shikoku in the South. This rural area is famous for its onions and chrysanthemums. It has a slowly declining population, first because like the urban areas of Japan the birth rate is below replacement level, but also because many young people do not want to be farmers and leave for the bright lights of Kobe and Osaka.

The small population of Awaji and its relative isolation until the bridges came means that there are no railways and in most areas only three buses a day. This means that old people have to drive if they want to go anywhere.

In Japan you have to take a driving test every 3 years from the age of 75. In Awaji those about to be tested are told that "no one fails"! Those who have had so many accidents that they can no longer get insurance have the government as insurer of last resort. There are no convictions for dangerous driving such as facing your friend in the passenger seat whilst driving on the wrong side of the road. As Awaji people drive rather slowly, 40 mph is really going some, it appears that the accidents that occur are not usually severe. However there are almost no pavements in the villages and the chances of being run down would be high except that when they see you walking ( I have done 11 kilometres in the last 2 days) the drivers cross into the other side of the road if there is nothing coming.

In many ways this deliberate fudging by the authorities is a humane response to the difficulties old people face in getting about. It will be allowed until someone runs over a school party and then the authorities will start enforcing proper tests. Maybe there should be silver roads where super senior citizens can drive, knowing that the risks to children have been properly accounted for.

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