MA Jie & Masatsugu Horie:

Self-driving cars being planned by Google Inc. and global automakers may help counter slumping demand from younger customers by tapping the fastest-growing demographic in the world’s largest vehicle markets: the elderly.

As baby boomers age in markets including the U.S. and Japan, rising numbers of older drivers being killed or injured in accidents may spur demand for autonomous vehicles. With as many as 90 percent of traffic accidents caused by human error, a key benefit of the technology is boosting safety, executives from automakers including General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. said at an industry conference in Tokyo last week.

“Seniors are often regarded as the victims of traffic accidents, Moritaka Yoshida, managing officer and chief safety technology officer at Toyota, said this month as the company announced plans for automated-driving systems. ‘‘However, recently an increasing number of accidents are caused by senior drivers.’’
Japan, the world’s fastest-aging major economy and the third-largest car market, is at the forefront of the accident trend: of the 4,411 people who died on the road in the country last year, more than half, or 2,264, were 65 or older, according to data from the National Police Agency.