The National Police Agency has decided to change the system for issuing driver’s licenses to people with such diseases as epilepsy, schizophrenia and cognitive impairment that can cause loss of consciousness while driving. The changes will be made on the basis of proposals made by a panel of experts set up after an April 2011 traffic accident in Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture, in which a crane truck driven by an epileptic driver mowed down and killed six primary school pupils.

In changing the licensing system, utmost care must be taken so that the social participation of people with these diseases will be expanded and that prejudice about, and discrimination against, such people will not be fostered. The changes should not result in depriving such people of job opportunities and the means of transportation, especially in the countryside.

One pillar of the proposals is to establish penal provisions for people with these diseases who make false declarations about their conditions when getting or renewing driver’s licenses. The driver involved in the Kanuma accident did not declare that he had epilepsy when he got a driver’s license.

The NPA must consider the possibility that penal provisions may have the effect of discouraging people with the diseases from declaring their conditions in getting or renewing licenses.

Another pillar is to let doctors voluntarily provide information on drivers who they think are not fit to drive due to their illnesses to public safety commissions. Not making provision of this information obligatory is a wise approach. But even if it is on a voluntary basis, the trustful relationship between doctors and patients may be broken, or patients may stop visiting doctors. Guidelines will be needed for the operation of this system.

The panel proposed that when people who had their driver’s licenses revoked due to their illnesses try to get back the licenses because of improvement in their conditions, they should be exempted from driving and paper tests if it has been less than three years since the license revocation. This is a reasonable proposal.

People with epilepsy and some other diseases were not issued driver’s licenses until the Road Traffic Law was revised in 2002. The likelihood of epileptic drivers causing traffic accidents is less than that for young or elderly drivers.

Still, people who suffer from epilepsy, schizophrenia, cognitive impairment, etc. should declare their conditions when they try to get or renew driver’s licenses. When patients with driver’s licenses feel that they may suffer a sudden loss of consciousness, they should stop driving.

But these patients should be given the same job opportunities as other people. Employers must not fire employees just because they have those diseases. Anybody could develop these diseases. In the case of epilepsy, medical treatment can either cure or suppress epileptic attacks in most cases.

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