National

Orders flood in for Onepedal device after spate of car accidents involving elderly in Japan

JIJI

A device called Onepedal has been developed by a small company to help reduce car accidents, by eliminating the possibility of drivers mistakenly pressing the accelerator instead of the brake.

In recent years, there have been a series of accidents involving cars driven by elderly people that apparently occurred due to the accelerator being depressed instead of the brake by mistake.

The special Onepedal device is made by Naruse Machinery Co., based in the city of Tamana in Kumamoto Prefecture, and could be a blessing for aging drivers.

For cars equipped with Onepedal to decelerate or stop, drivers step on the device just as they would with a conventional brake pedal. To accelerate, meanwhile, they move their foot sideways to press a lever attached to the side of the pedal.

Due to the one-pedal structure of the device, there is no risk that drivers will mistake the gas pedal for the brake, according to the company.

In addition, Onepedal reduces braking time, because the driver’s foot remains on the brake pedal while the car is in motion.

Onepedal, priced at about ¥200,000, including installation costs, meets mandatory automobile inspection standards. Installation of the device does not have to be reported to transport authorities.

Currently, customers have to wait around 10 months for the device to be installed after placing an order.

Naruse Machinery also produces equipment for farming seaweed and other machines. Masuyuki Naruse, the 83-year-old president of the firm, started developing the unique pedal some 30 years ago after being frightened when his car suddenly moved into a road from a parking lot when he mistakenly stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake.

Naruse got the idea for Onepedal when he saw a junior high school music teacher playing a keyboard by operating several foot pedals while the teacher’s heel remained on the floor.

In 1991, Naruse Machinery acquired the patent for the product and launched it, and has continued work since to improve the device.

Demand for Onepedal began to surge following high-profile car accidents earlier this year that are believed to have happened due to drivers mistaking the accelerator for the brake.

In April, a car driven by a man in his late 80s plowed into pedestrians and cyclists in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, killing a 31-year-old woman and her 3-year-old daughter and injuring others. In June, a runaway car driven by an 81-year-old man, crashed into five other automobiles in the city of Fukuoka, killing him and his wife, 76, who was also in the vehicle.

In the past, Naruse Machinery had seen a number of clients cancel their Onepedal orders after complaining that they could not wait so long to get their cars furnished with the device, according to Tomoo Arise, a 49-year-old employee of the company.

“Now, many customers say they can wait, no matter how long it takes,” Arise said.

Since April, the company has sold some 50 units of the device nationwide.

The number of applications filed with the Tamana Municipal Government to subsidize installation of the device has totaled 15 so far in fiscal 2019, which ends next March, against four for the whole of fiscal 2018.

Yukio Takeda, an 81-year-old resident of the city of Arao in Kumamoto Prefecture, said he mistook the accelerator for the brake at the parking lot of a hospital about six months ago.

“Fortunately, it didn’t lead to a major accident, but I came to think that the recent series of car accidents are not someone else’s problem,” Takeda said, noting that this experience prompted him to decide to install Onepedal.

As the structure of the accelerator varies depending on vehicle type and model year, the company is only able to install up to about 13 units a month.

“To help reduce accidents, we’re considering specific ways of mass-producing Onepedal by standardizing it, at least for popular vehicle models,” Naruse said.

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