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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Seizure-linked accidents prompt look at traffic law


In the wake of fatal car accidents involving epileptics, the National Police Agency has began studying possible revisions to the Road Traffic Law in hopes of preventing accidents by drivers with disorders characterized by seizures.

A minivan rammed into pedestrians at a busy intersection in the city of Kyoto's Gion entertainment district on April 12, killing seven people and injuring 11. The 30-year-old driver, Shingo Fujisaki, also died, after crashing into a utility pole at high speed.

Fujisaki had been receiving treatment for epilepsy, which affected him when he was busy with work or felt stressed, according to his family, who had advised him not to drive.

The Kyoto Prefectural Police are investigating the cause of the crash.

Under the existing law, people with epilepsy can obtain or renew driver's licenses if they submit medical certificates showing they have not suffered seizures in the previous two years and are unlikely to in the near future.

But the law has been difficult to enforce, according to a senior NPA official, because some drivers do not report their illnesses when applying for or renewing licenses, and the law sets no punishment for violating it.

Some drivers continue to conceal their illnesses because licenses are necessary for certain jobs or are used by individuals as identification cards.

Over the past five years, there have been 1,331 traffic accidents caused by drivers who have had seizures or sudden illnesses while on the road, according to NPA data. The accidents have accounted for 76 deaths and 2,072 injuries.

In another recent accident, six elementary school students were killed in Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture, in April 2011, when a mobile crane ran over them after an apparent epileptic seizure left the driver unconscious.

The driver had renewed his driver's license without reporting his condition.

Last month, the families of those children presented the justice minister and the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission with some 170,000 signatures calling for studies into preventing a recurrence of these kinds of accidents.

In response, the NPA announced it would set up an expert panel to look into revising the Road Traffic Law to ban the issuing or renewing of the driver's licenses of applicants who do not report illnesses.

While agreeing that such applicants should be banned, the Japanese Epilepsy Association called for special treatment for epilepsy patents, including reductions or exemptions on fares for public transportation.

"Society needs to consider how to exist together with epileptic patients," the association said.

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