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Father of boy killed by 'Pokemon Go' driver warns of smartphone dangers

Takatoshi Noritake holds the water bottle that his late son Keita was carrying at the time of the accident, in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, on Oct. 21, 2017. (Mainichi)

ICHINOMIYA, Aichi -- A year has passed since a 9-year-old boy was killed here by a truck driver playing "Pokemon Go," yet the boy's father continues to visit high schools as part of a campaign to stamp out "the performing of tasks while looking at a smartphone."

Takatoshi Noritake, a 47-year-old teacher, lost his son Keita after he was hit by a truck on the way home from school on Oct. 26, 2016. The driver of the truck was sentenced to three years in prison in March 2017 for negligent driving resulting in death.

Following the trial, Takatoshi was asked by fellow teachers to give lectures to students about traffic safety. The father agreed, partly because he found the sight of high school students cycling with smartphones brandished in one hand and earphones in their ears disconcerting.

"High school students will soon be able to drive. 'The act of performing other tasks while looking at a smartphone creates victims, and it also creates perpetrators. Conveying my sorrow over what Keita could've become and the sadness felt by our family (in the lectures) is a way of honoring Keita," the father explains.

During the lectures, Takatoshi shows the students letters that Keita handed to him before his death. Apparently, Keita would respond in a typically child-like manner whenever he was given compliments such as "You've grown up so much." The teacher also talks about Keita's older brother tearfully trying to fix the little boy's water bottle, dented after being hit by the truck. With desperately sad recollections such as these, Takatoshi helps the students appreciate the importance of life.

The lectures have clearly had a positive impact. For example, Takatoshi once received a letter from a high school girl who had slashed her wrists on numerous occasions, stating, "I feel like I've been told to make the most of my life."

Takatoshi sleeps in a room with his son's spirit tablet and cremated remains, together with an altar surrounded by photographs. "Keita felt lonely whenever he slept on his own," the teacher says.

Every morning, Takatoshi goes to the crossing where Keita was killed and talks to his late son. Traffic lights were installed there in August. "There, it feels as though Keita is supporting me, giving me words of encouragement such as 'Keep going, Daddy!'" he explains. Takatoshi is determined to continue campaigning to stop people from trying to do other things while staring at their smartphone screens.

According to the National Police Agency, about 1 million people are arrested every year for driving while using a cell phone. In 2016, the figure was about 960,000.

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