A minivan driven by an epileptic man crashed into pedestrians on a street in Kyoto’s popular Gion tourist district April 12, killing two men and five women, and injuring 11 others. The 30-year-old driver also died. He apparently suffered an epileptic attack while he was driving.

The Kyoto incident followed a similar incident in Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture, in April 2011. A man driving a crane vehicle suffered an epileptic fit while driving, mowing down and killing six elementary school pupils. The man was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for negligent driving resulting in deaths and injury.

In view of these incidents, it is necessary for those concerned — including survivors, relatives of the victims, doctors, representatives from associations that represent epileptic patients, police representatives and officials from the justice and health and welfare ministries — to start discussing creation of an appropriate driver’s license system for epileptics. In the discussions, utmost care must be taken so as not to foment prejudice against epileptics.

Under a 2002 enforcement of a Road Traffic Law revision, a person with epilepsy became eligible to get a driver’s license if certain conditions are met. A doctor must diagnose that he or she has not had a fit in the past two years and is not likely to have a fit in the next several years. In addition, past epileptic seizures must be diagnosed as “partial” in that they did not cause problems with movement and consciousness.

When applying for or renewing a driver’s license, an epileptic person must declare that he or she has the disease.

The man who caused the Kyoto incident had two or three fits earlier this year and was thinking of finding a new job that didn’t require driving. But in renewing his driver’s license in March, he did not declare that he had epilepsy. The driver who caused the Kanuma incident also failed to make the declaration when renewing his driver’s license. Punishment may be necessary for epileptics who fail to make the declaration.

In the countryside, cars are indispensable. Some jobs require driving. There are an estimated 1 million epileptics in Japan. The Japan Epileptic Society says that proper use of drugs can prevent epileptic attacks in some 80 percent of patients.

Epileptic patients’ social participation should not be limited. But introduction of a system to regularly check their driving aptitude and to stop them from driving when necessary is needed.

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