Forcing elderly drivers to take mandatory brain tests reduces car accident rates by one in ten

A study finds that making older drivers take mandatory cognitive tests reduces the rate of vehicle collisions among seniors by one in ten.

Researchers in Japan studied the impact of a retirement rule imposed in 2017 that requires all people over the age of 75 to take a knowledge test every five years in order to retain their licence.

In two years, the country has seen car accidents among seniors drop by about 4,000. But at the same time, injuries among those over 75 on bikes and sidewalks have skyrocketed.

Cognition slows as we age, slowing response times to events on the road such as someone running in front of a car or a car applying emergency brakes, increasing crash risk among elderly drivers.

Cognitive tests of drivers over 75 in Japan led to fewer car accidents, data shows (Stock Image)

Activists say older adults in the US and UK have a slightly higher rate of accidents than others by age group.

In Japan, people over the age of 75 have been required to take cognitive tests when renewing their license since 2017.

This includes testing the driver’s memory – by having them remember illustrations without making prompts – and time perception – by asking them about the year, month, date, day of the week and the current time.

Scores are given as either ‘at risk of dementia’ or ‘no risk of dementia’.

Japan requires over-75s to renew their driver’s licenses every five years, in line with the amount of time between renewals for all adults.

In the United States, laws vary widely by state — but most require senior drivers to take a vision test when renewing their licenses. In the UK, drivers over the age of 70 must renew their license every three years – instead of the standard 10.

In the latest study, scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Maryland analyzed 602,885 police reports of collisions between drivers over the age of 70.

The researchers looked at reports from 2012 to 2017 – before the new restriction went into effect – and through December 2019 – covering the following two years.

The results showed that there were, on average, 3,670 fewer collisions among drivers over the age of 75 during the period following the tests.

As measured by the elderly, this was a decrease from 347 accidents per 100,000 people per year to 299 per 100,000 – or 14 percent less.

The drop was mostly among men, with rates dropping from 619 to 506 — a drop of 18 percent. But women also saw a drop from 157 to 151 — a drop of four percent.

Data for 2019 showed that 41 fatal accidents occurred in Japan due to someone accidentally depressing the accelerator instead of the brake. Of these, 28 (68 percent) are caused by drivers over the age of 75.

During the study, the scientists also looked at the number of injuries among pedestrians and cyclists over the age of 75.

It was not clear whether these injuries were caused by the elderly or if other drivers were injured.

Of the 196,889 injury reports analyzed, the results showed that after the rules were changed, those reports rose by an average of 959. This was mainly among women (805 other injuries).

The researchers suggested that the policy led to fewer collisions because it led to more people surrendering their licenses.

Led by Dr Haruhiko Inada, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, they said: ‘Since around 2017, the number of older drivers who have voluntarily relinquished their licenses has increased sharply for reasons that are not clear, particularly in older age groups, which may have contributed to in collision reduction.

“Cognitive screening of older drivers on license renewal and promotion of voluntary relinquishment of licenses may prevent motor vehicle collisions.”

They noted that men were more likely to cause car collisions than women because men are more likely to hold driver’s licenses when they are older.

Dr Inada added: “Safety measures must be strengthened for older cyclists and pedestrians.

“We must also provide older adults with the necessary care to prepare to quit driving and safe alternative transportation.”

Japan has one of the fastest aging societies in the world – one in five citizens is 70 or older.

It is also a nation of drivers and car lovers, with nearly 80 million vehicles on the road. Reducing traffic accidents as people get older is a growing problem.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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