With elderly car accidents on the rise, gov't looks to tougher testing

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With elderly car accidents on the rise, gov't looks to tougher testing

The government is considering testing individual drivers' abilities to respond quickly to unexpected events while driving as the number of car accidents caused by senior drivers is on the rise.

Less than a week after a woman in her 60s and her 18-month-old granddaughter were killed by a senior driver in Busan, another elderly driver in Seoul barely missed two pedestrians on Sunday as they crashed their car into a convenience store.
In Mapo District, western Seoul, on Sunday, a car in a parking space directly across from a store suddenly lunged forward and crashed into it, just as two pedestrians were walking by.
The accident happened within a designated "Silver Zone," or a neighborhood with a relatively higher senior citizen population, specifically those 65 and over.  
The window of the store was shattered and the impact indirectly broke the store owner's nose. The police said the driver was in their 70s.
This comes only four days after a woman in her 60s who was pushing her granddaughter along in a stroller was killed after getting hit by a car driven by someone in their 80s.
In both cases, the drivers blamed their vehicle.
According to Korea Transpiration Safety Authority, there were about 3.86 million drivers 65 and over in 2020, a growth of 55 percent from 2.49 million in 2016. The number of taxi drivers 65 and over is also growing accordingly, from 55,049 in 2016 to 89,563 in 2020.
During the same time period, the number of car accidents caused by senior citizens increased by 27 percent, from 24,429 cases in 2016 to 31,072 in 2020. Car accidents caused by drivers 65 and over made up 10.5. percent of all accidents in Korea last year.
Currently, the government requires those 65 and over to take a driving aptitude test and attend a short safety program every five years, and those over 75 every three years. But these tests only check the most basic skills, like whether individuals can see things clearly, without having them actually get out on the road with an official.
Some local governments have been providing public transportation vouchers or shopping coupons to senior citizens who voluntarily forfeit their driver’s license, but many hesitate to give it up due to fears that they might have difficulty getting around.
The government is planning to adopt a virtual reality system by 2025, with which it can check senior citizens' driving aptitude, such as whether they would be able to drive at all times of day, including at night, or at high speeds, such as on a highway. Drivers can then be issued a license with personalized driving limitations.
The government is investing 3.6 billion won ($3 million) over three years to complete the virtual reality test.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]
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