Apr 25, 2019
TOKYO - A man who lost his wife and daughter in a Tokyo car crash involving an elderly driver expressed his deep sorrow Wednesday for being deprived of the family's future and called on people to reconsider driving if safety cannot be ensured.
"I had believed I would watch my (3-year-old) 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 life," the 32-year-old man said at a press conference in Tokyo, while asking not to be named. "Our future was lost in the blink of an eye."
His wife Mana Matsunaga, 31, and their daughter Riko were killed Friday when a car driven by 87-year-old Kozo Iizuka rammed into their bicycle as it barreled down for 150 meters in the Ikebukuro district, ignoring red traffic signals. The driver and nine others were injured in the accident, which police say may have been caused by human error.
The accident has again stirred debate on how to prevent accidents involving elderly drivers in an aging country.
"If there is anyone who is worried (that he or she may not be able to drive safely), 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.
(The husband and father of Mana Matsunaga, 31, and Riko, 3.)
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 can 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 driving)," he said.
According to the police, Iizuka said his accelerator became stuck but there has been no evidence so far that its movement was impeded. They have not found he was under the influence of alcohol or medication at the time.
The police said Sunday that Iizuka may have panicked when he hit a guardrail first, which then snowballed into a series of accidents.
The number of fatal traffic accidents has been declining in recent years, but accidents deemed to be caused by people aged 75 or older increased to 460 in 2018, up 42 cases from a year earlier. Of the 460, 136 cases involved drivers who became confused with pedals or handles.
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 suggest the risk of dementia. Dementia patients will 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, had taken a cognitive function test in 2017, according to investigative sources. But no problems were observed at that time.
The number of people who voluntarily return their licenses has been on the rise, but a police official said it is difficult to strongly urge the elderly to do so especially in areas where cars play an important role in daily life.
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