Hundreds of Elderly Drivers Turn in Their Licenses

  • By Kwon Sang-eun, Jung Ji-sup

    March 19, 2019 08:38

    The Seoul Metropolitan Government's new incentive encouraging elderly people to give up their driving license has met with a positive reception.

    The city government dangled a prize of a transit card pre-loaded with W100,000 credit to people over 70 who voluntarily return their license (US$1=W1,133). Last week alone, 613 did just that, nearly half of the 1,387 elderly people who did so through the whole of last year.

    At this rate, over 80,000 people are expected to turn in their license by the deadline at the end of September. The Seoul Metropolitan Government will then choose 500 winners based on their age and another 500 in a blind draw. Applications can be submitted at 31 police stations and four driving test sites across Seoul.

    Korea's second-largest city Busan, which first introduced the incentive in July last year, had 5,280 applicants in just five months, 11 times more than the 420 who voluntarily returned their license throughout the previous year.

    The benefit was immediate -- the number of people who died from traffic accidents caused by elderly drivers dropped from 35 in 2017 to 18 in 2018.

    Elderly men fill in a form at a driving test site in Seoul on Friday. /Yonhap

    The elderly apparently liked the idea even though they can already use the subway for free. But there is no similar exemption for buses, and many elderly people prefer them because there are no steps to climb and they take them closer to their destination. The transit cards can also be used as debit cards in some convenience stores.

    Many elderly people agree that they should probably stop driving. Jo Ji-hyun, a 74-year-old living in Mok-dong in western Seoul, recently returned her license with her husband. Although she had an accident-free driving record for 30 years, her children encouraged them to stop.

    "It's going to be a bit less convenient, but at least I have peace of mind that I won't cause any accidents," she said.

    This incentive policy is spreading across the country. Gyeonggi Province, the most populous province with 13.1 million people, will pay out W100,000 to 10,000 people over 65 who return their license in the second half of this year. It hopes to persuade 37,000 people to return their license by 2022.

    But critics say raising awareness is better than financial incentives. Lee Young-mi, who teaches safety education at the Seoul branch of the Korea Road Traffic Authority, said, "It is important to make people recognize that returning their license is a valuable thing to do for the elderly themselves, their families and society."

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