Elder Driver Badges 'Leaf' Japanese Seniors Cold

Anyone driving in Japan will notice curious badges on many of the other cars. Both are shaped like stylized leaves, with green & yellow (Wakaba) for first-year new drivers and red & yellow (Koleshiya) for seniors over 75. It's the latter that are ruffling a few feathers. After all, what person of advanced age wants to be likened to a dying leaf?

Though the official purpose of the badges is to "symbolize the level of driving experience", c'mon - we all know it REALLY means "youngster/oldster at the wheel, beware!". These badges come in packs of two: a magnetized badge for the vehicle exterior and one with a suction cup for the inside of a window.

Wakaba new driver badges don't raise a fuss because they're only required for a driver's first year on the road. The koleshiya badges, on the other hand, are mandatory for Japanese 75 or older and must be displayed as long as they drive. Curiously, both types of badges are being sold (here and here) to those who want to give their rides the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) look.  


The most recent survey of drivers in Japan indicates that the country's licensed senior (over 70) drivers are rapidly increasing: 6.16 million (7.7 percent of all drivers) in late 2007 rising to 9.92 million (12.4 percent  of all drivers) by 2017.

As the chance of encountering an elderly driver on the road goes up, Japan's National Police Agency (NPA) is leaning on oldsters to display their koleshiya badges. The oldsters are leaning back, basically telling the NPA where to stick their badges - and not on their patrol cars, either.

The latest tactic by the NPA was to fine those 75-plussers who didn't display koleshiya badges ¥4,000 yen (about $40), a hefty chunk of change for retirees on fixed incomes. Grey power sprung into action, forcing the NPA to retract the penalty.

A side-effect of the ruckus is that now advocates for the elderly are criticizing the design of the badge itself, calling it offensive and insensitive for comparing Japan's seniors to dying autumn leaves. It will be interesting to see what the authorities do to mollify the nation's stirred-up seniors, a group whose growing numbers and political influence are not to be taken lightly. (via Japan Times)