6. Analysis of generation-specific factors
   As discussed in Section 4, drivers presently over 45 committing a "stop sign violation" may have been influenced by driving habits characteristic of their generation as well as by aging. Based on the common belief that driving habits acquired when we were novice drivers have some lasting influence, it is useful to look at various data collected when current senior drivers first started driving. Since we have only limited reliable data at hand, we examine the status of licensed drivers 40 years ago, in 1970. This year was in the middle of the so-called first "traffic war" recording the worst fatality figures ever seen in Japan. Figure 12 shows the proportion of licensed drivers in 1970 including moped riders and all other vehicle drivers, and that in 2008 for cars only. For the generation now aged 65-69, accounting for 86% in 2008 (black dot), 80% of them already held a driver's license in 1970 when they were 25-29. The percentage of license holders over 75 was higher 40 years ago than now; consequently, many of today's senior car drivers started driving a vehicle of some kind in their 20s.

  The White Paper on Police 2005 featured an article entitled "Aiming for the world's safest road traffic" to "review the transition of road safety measures since the war, and to urgently evaluate and provide countermeasures for the aging society." This article describes the circumstances under which modern seniors drove their cars in their early years: "The road traffic of Japan grew rapidly after 1955. Before then, the principal player had been cargo trucks, but there was an increase in ownership of motor vehicles, particularly motorcycles, after 1955 and passenger cars after 1965, reaching 37.33 million units in 1974, which is a twenty-fold increase since 1955." As the current vehicle ownership is
90 million, which means about 50 times that in 1955, Japan experienced a surprising spike during this 20-year period.

  The article also states: "While the rapid growth in road traffic has made a substantial contribution to our social and economic development and lifestyle improvement, it has also produced a tremendous surge of traffic accidents,
a serious social malady called the traffic war, partly because road safety measures such as the provision of safety infrastructure and more transport police officers had not been able to keep up with this dramatic progress. The annual number of deaths reached 16,765 in 1970, the highest figure ever in Japan. Looking closely at the fatal accidents between 1955 and 1974, pedestrians constitute the majority of victims due to insufficient provision of sidewalks or traffic lights. In particular, the continuous occurrence of tragic accidents involving small children shocked the nation into realizing the gravity of this issue."

  From this description, the necessary measures could not keep up with the rapidly growing road traffic at that time, in spite of the fact that there were fewer cars and less crowded roads than today. There also must have been fewer opportunities for drivers and pedestrians to learn how to ensure traffic safety.

  Most modern cars are equipped with an automatic transmission, but around 1970 manual transmissions were the order of the day. Novice drivers had to be careful to engage the clutch when starting their car even on a level road to prevent stalling. They used to release the parking brake with the clutch partially engaged in order to make it up a slope, paying great attention so that their car would not stall or roll backwards. Once they mastered the technique of going up a slope without the help of the parking brake, they considered themselves a full-fledged driver.

  Such circumstances as the one described above, considerably different from the present, must have formed the unique driving habits of this generation.

Fig. 12: Proportion of male license holders in Japan by age group


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Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis (ITARDA)