Getting the elderly to give up their driver's licenses can be a sensitive, potentially upsetting business, but the local government in Japan's Aichi prefecture thinks it has hit on a solution: Persuade old people to voluntarily give up their driving privileges by bribing them with ramen discounts.
Government subsidised ramen may seem like a desperate measure, but when it comes to old people behind the wheel in Japan, these are desperate times. Japan has the second-oldest population in the world, with nearly 23 percent of their citizens over 65 years old. Recently, there's been an alarming spike in fatal accidents caused by seniors—enough to compel Japanese President Shinzo Abe to call an emergency meeting on the phenomenon. And older Japanese drivers seem especially hesitant to give up their licenses; last year, just 270,000 Japanese senior citizens decided to stop driving, representing only 2 percent of the 17 million seniors still on the road.
But we have a feeling those numbers are about to improve considerably, at least among the elderly in Aichi. Now, they can give up their licenses and receive a lifetime (what's left of it) 15 percent discount at any Sugakiya ramen restaurant. We've never tried Sugakiya ramen, but seeing as this is Japan, it might be fair to assume it's pretty good—though typically, Aichi-folk are more inclined to eat udon.
Aichi's elderly can also get discounts at places like barber shops and public bathhouses if they prefer, but come on: ramen!
It's a little too early to tell how effective the new ramen-scheme will prove, but it's looking pretty impressive: Already, 12,000 elderly drivers in the prefecture have given up their licenses.
Giving up what many aging drivers see as their independence for cheap noodles may seem like a bad bargain, but recent fatal accidents have been well-publicised and tragic. In October, an 87-year-old truck driver accidentally ran down a group of children on their way to school, killing a six-year-old, and many elderly are eager to do their part to make the roads safer.
And at least the promise of cheap ramen is better than what they're doing in Tokyo, which is having old people who give up their licenses take part in a graduation ceremony where they are presented with a certificate. We'd rather have noodles, thanks.