Tokyo offers free pizza to lure pensioners from their cars

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The Independent Online

Like many proud men, Seichi Koyama bristles when his driving skills are questioned. "I'm confident I can drive well," he told Japanese TV, brandishing his clean licence and telling the viewing millions that he has never had an accident or been penalised.

It's quite a claim, for Mr Koyama is 102 years old, and his licence was awarded more than 80 years ago.

Not all Japanese pensioners operate their cars as safely as Tokyo's oldest driver. Last month, a woman in her 70s ploughed into a group of pedestrians, leaving a child in a coma, one of several horrific car accidents involving the elderly. Drivers aged 65 or over caused about 7,000 accidents in Tokyo last year, a two-and-a-half-fold rise in a decade. More than 1,000 pensioners die every year in driving accidents in Japan.

With one of the fastest-ageing populations on the planet, Japan is struggling to deal with a growing army of pensioners.

The demographic tsunami is even lapping at the shores of Tokyo Disneyland. The theme park has just introduced a special over-60s pass. A spokesman said that the "Flowers and Trees Tour" attraction had been added to the Disney roster because "older people like flowers and gardening".

The government fears that the elderly threaten carnage on Japan's busy roads. About 300,000 older drivers may have dementia, say the Japanese police.

As examinations for over-75s from next year will not cure the problem – many hide dementia symptoms – the Tokyo government has turned to shopping incentives to lure the elderly from their cars. From this month, pensioners are eligible for discounts from pizza stores, hotels and amusement parks in return for giving up their driving licences. The novel police plan has enlisted the support of about 40 Tokyo businesses, including the upmarket Imperial Hotel.

The police have so far baulked at imposing an upper age limit on the driving licence and focused instead on developing tests to weed out unfit drivers.

At 102, however, Mr Koyama feels his time has finally come. "It's a point of pride to be qualified to drive and I'd like to continue," he said. "But I guess I'll return my licence."