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'What I did can never be undone': Elderly driver's regret over fatal accident

Residents are seen laying flowers at the scene of an accident that took the lives of a mother and daughter one month ago in Ikebukuro, Toshima Ward, Tokyo, on May 18, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuro Tamaki)

TOKYO -- May 19 marked one month since a mother and daughter riding a bicycle were killed by an elderly motorist's vehicle. The accident that happened here in Ikebukuro, Toshima Ward, has sparked societal debate about the potential dangers from Japan's large cohort of older drivers.

A resident of Yokohama, 82, caused a fatal accident in 2012. He spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun about his life after the crash, the bereaved family's rejection of his apologies, and his choice to ride a bicycle as a way to partly repent for his actions. "What I did can never be undone," he said, quietly describing the days of self-reproach and regret he has led since that day.

In 2012, then aged 74, he was attempting to back into a space at a parking lot in the city. But, he ended up reversing 5 meters over the line, hitting a woman in her 60s who was rushed to hospital. During questioning, he said "I mistook the accelerator for the brake."

Police handcuffed and arrested him immediately under suspicion of negligent driving causing injury, and took him to a detention facility. He prayed for her life to be saved, but some hours later an officer informed him she had died. Realizing the weight of his actions, he prostrated himself on the floor and wept as he apologized.

After he left the detention facility, he telephoned the victim's family to offer his remorse. But they rejected his moves, telling him to never call again. He said the voice on the other end of the phone was filled with anger for the loss of a beloved family member. He didn't know the deceased's address, so could not offer his apology in person.

The Yokohama District Court handed him a suspended prison sentence and invalidated his driver's license. The Driver's License Center informed him he would be eligible to reapply after a year, but he resolved never to drive again. "I saw that as one way I could repent," he said.

Generally as we age our cognitive and motor functions deteriorate. But he says truly acknowledging this is difficult. Before he caused the 2012 accident, he had spent over 50 years driving without incident or infringement. Wherever he went, it was by car, adding "I had no problem with my driving, I was confident I wouldn't cause an accident."

His wife passed away two years ago and he now lives alone. Since then, he has used a bicycle to get around. "My driving ability waned without me noticing. I want those reaching 70 to think about handing their license in. Regardless, people should take proper care when they get behind the wheel."

(Japanese original by Yuki Yamamoto, City News Department)

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