Japan Data

First Decline in Driver's License Holders in Japan for 50 Years

Society Lifestyle

The overall number of driver's license holders in Japan dropped in 2019 in the first fall in 50 years. Possession of ordinary vehicle driver's licenses continues to rise, but numbers are declining for other categories, such as for large vehicles.

Figures released in March by Japan’s National Police Agency show that the number of driver’s license holders fell by 150,000 in 2019 to 82.2 million. Driver’s license possession in Japan rose steadily from 1969, when there were 24.8 million license holders, but the rate of increase flattened from around 2014. The statistics include all license categories, including ordinary vehicle, large vehicle, and motorcycle licenses. For holders of multiple licenses, only the higher category license is counted.

In 2019, increases were only seen in ordinary vehicle class 1 (private car) and class 2 (commercial passenger-carrying vehicle) licenses. The number of license holders for large vehicles, large special vehicles (e.g., tractors and cranes), and small special vehicles all fell. For example, the number of class 2 large vehicle license holders fell 3% to 870,000, while class 2 ordinary vehicle license holder numbers rose over 50% to around 44,000.

Main Driver’s License Categories and Example Vehicles

Large vehicle Trucks, buses, tanker trucks, mixer trucks
Large special vehicle Bulldozers, cranes, excavators
Medium vehicle Medium trucks, microbuses
Ordinary vehicle Passenger cars, minicars

Another notable trend is the recent increase in requests for “driving career certificates,” under a system that began in 2002. While demand for the certificates rose only gradually in the first 10 years, in 2012, they were ascribed validity as personal ID equivalent with a driver’s license, leading to a steep rise in requests. There were 520,000 certificates issued in 2019, which was 160,000 more than in 2018, as more people return their licenses amid an ongoing increase in media reports of traffic accidents involving senior drivers.

Issuance of Driving Career Certificates by Age Group

2019 2018
65–69 53,903 27,115
70–74 148,013 74,354
75–79 107,525 95,738
80–84 116,116 93,514
85 and older 71,472 55,474
Total 519,188 358,740

Created by Nippon.com based on data from the National Police Agency

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: © Fast&Slow/ Pixta.)

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