Automatic golf carts for Japanese elderly

An automatic golf cart in Wajima, Japan Image copyright Asahi Shimbun
Image caption Look, no hands! An operator is required by law, but keep their hands off the steering wheel

A city in western Japan has introduced a free automated golf cart service for its elderly residents in a bid to stop a rising tide of traffic accidents.

In the first such service on Japan's roads, the carts travel along a 3km (two mile) route around Wajima, following an electromagnetic strip buried in the road at a sedate pace of up to 12km/h (7.5mph). As the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports, the road-legal vehicles can't be driverless due to current Japanese traffic laws, which means there's a always staff member behind the wheel to deal with unexpected obstacles and badly parked cars.

Wajima has a population of around 27,000, and nearly half are aged 65 or over, the paper says. With many older drivers giving up their licences because they find it difficult to control a car, the city's chamber of commerce has provided the scheme to allow them to keep their mobility. Officials hope that the carts will also prove popular with tourists to the seaside town.

Realising that golf carts aren't just handy for golfers, their use has increased in Japan for jobs such as sight-seeing and ferrying nursing home residents around, Asahi Shimbun says. However, Wajima's elderly people can't rely on their automated golf carts to get them home from a night out - the service currently only runs four hours per day, ending at 3pm.

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