I don’t know what you’re thinking when you end up driving behind someone who moves slow as molasses (I mean, c’mon, going 10 under the speed limit?!), but what I’m generally thinking is, ‘this must be an old lady I’m stuck behind.’ And when I finally speed past them, I try to steal a peek at whoever is sitting in the driver’s seat, if it’s anyone 40 or older, I tend to feel justified in assuming that they’re old. But in Japan, I don’t even need to look at the driver because old people label their cars for me!
During the first year of driving after getting a license, drivers are required by law to display a new driver mark on their car, actually called a novice mark (初心者マーク) and also referred to as the new leaves mark (若葉マーク). After one year, you are not required to have the sticker, but you can keep it if you want to. It may have the effect of other cars staying away from your car. Or it may not. My friend who drives with a faded 3 year old new driver mark doesn’t seem to be treated any differently…
Once a driver turns 70, they are required to display the old drivers mark (高齢者マーク) on both the front and back of their car. This makes it easy to spot a Sunday driver, even when you just see their car parked at the supermarket! Just like the new driver mark, this sticker is also compared to a leaf. Most people call it an autumn leaf mark (紅葉マーク), but some call it a withered leaf (枯れ葉マーク) or fallen leaf (落ち葉マーク). I must say, where I live, the old driver marks are much more common than new driver marks.
But maybe all that imagery of dead leaves was too much for the ol’ folks because this year, the old driver mark has gotten a new design. The new four leaf version seems to mix the new driver mark and old old driver mark, confusing me to believe that they made a “driver mark.” But that turned out not to be true. The new mark is only a replacement for the old driver mark. New drivers get to keep their young leaf sticker on their cars.