National

Think about not taking the wheel, says man whose wife and child were killed in Tokyo by elderly driver

Kyodo

A man who lost his wife and daughter in a Tokyo car accident involving an elderly driver expressed his deep sorrow Wednesday for being deprived of the family’s future and called on people to reconsider whether they should drive if safety cannot be ensured.

“I had believed I would watch my daughter grow up and become an adult, and that I would spend the rest of my days together with my wife until the end of our natural lives,” the 32-year-old man said at a news conference in Tokyo, while asking not to be named. “Our future was lost in the blink of an eye.”

The man’s wife, Mana Matsunaga, 31, and their daughter, Riko, 3, were killed Friday when a car driven by 87-year-old Kozo Iizuka ignored red traffic signals and rammed into their bicycle, while also hitting others, before crashing into a garbage truck 150 meters down the road.

The driver and nine others were injured in the collision, which police say may have been caused by human error. Police initially put the number of injured at eight, but increased the figure to 10 on Wednesday.

The incident has again stirred debate on how to prevent crashes involving elderly drivers in an aging country.

“If there is anyone who is worried, even in the slightest degree, I want the person to think about the option of not driving. I want people around to engage with the person and think about the issue within the family,” the man said.

He said his wish is to see society discuss the issue so similar accidents will not be repeated.

He also said he provided photos of his wife and daughter to the media because he wanted people to “feel” the existence of his wife, who was living the best she could, and his child, who was only able to live for three years.

“Then, people may be reminded of the two when they think they are on the verge of dangerous driving and rethink” their decision, he said.

According to police, Iizuka said his accelerator became stuck but there has been no evidence so far that its movement was impeded. Police don’t believe he was under the influence of alcohol or medication at the time.

Police said Sunday that Iizuka may have panicked when he first hit a guardrail, which then snowballed into a series of collisions.

The number of fatal traffic accidents has been declining in recent years, but crashes deemed to be caused by people aged 75 or above increased to 460 in 2018, up 42 from a year earlier. Of the 460, 136 cases involved drivers who mixed up the brake and gas pedals, or made steering errors.

Under a 2017 revised traffic law, people aged 75 or older are obliged to see a doctor in the case a cognitive function test, taken when they seek to renew their driver’s licenses, suggests the risk of dementia.

Dementia patients have their licenses suspended or rescinded.

Iizuka, who was once head of the former Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, part of the now-defunct Ministry of International Trade and Industry, took a cognitive function test in 2017, according to investigative sources. No problems were observed at the time.

The number of people who have voluntarily returned their licenses has been on the rise, but a police official said it is difficult to strongly urge elderly drivers to do so, especially in areas where cars play an important role in their daily lives.