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More drivers surrendering licenses after fatal Tokyo car crash

The Metropolitan Police Department is seen in this May 10, 2019 file photo. (Mainichi/Kenji Yoneda)

TOKYO -- Some 40,000 residents of Japan's capital voluntarily surrendered their driver's licenses after a woman and her toddler daughter were fatally hit by a car driven by an 88-year-old man in April, it has been learned, representing a sharp increase from a year before.

In the April 19 accident, 31-year-old Mana Matsunaga and her 3-year-old daughter Riko died after a car driven by Kozo Iizuka, 88, struck them as it was apparently traveling at a speed of nearly 100 kilometers per hour in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district. The case was referred to prosecutors on Nov. 12.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), a total of 42,252 people voluntarily returned their driver's licenses between April and October, an increase of 80% compared to the corresponding period in 2018, during which the figure stood at 23,473.

While the number of those who gave up their driver's licenses hovered around 3,000 to 4,000 a month in 2018, the figure for May 2019, shortly after the Ikebukuro accident, reached 5,759 -- a record high for a single month.

The number of such drivers has since increased, with 6,931 people surrendering their licenses in October. Altogether, 53,690 people returned their licenses between January and October, well over the 46,289 such drivers in 2017 -- the previously record-high yearly figure.

By age, about 90% of those who returned their driver's licenses this year were at least 65 years old.

Police have not tallied similar figures nationwide on a monthly basis.

According to the National Police Agency, there were 460 fatal traffic accidents triggered by drivers aged 75 or older across the nation in 2018, comprising a record 14.8% of deadly road accidents. Of the 460 cases, 30% were caused by driver error, such as stepping on the gas instead of the brakes.

In June, a van driven by an 81-year-old man caused a multiple pileup in the city of Fukuoka in southwestern Japan, leaving the driver and his 76-year-old wife in the vehicle dead. The man had reportedly talked to those close to him about returning his driver's license prior to the accident.

Alarmed by the situation, the government has mapped out emergency countermeasures such as improving the convenience of public transportation systems and promoting taxi ride-sharing.

In an attempt to prevent drivers from mistakenly stepping on the accelerator instead of the brakes, the government is also considering introducing a system to issue driver's licenses that only allow holders to be behind the wheels of vehicles that are designed to support safe driving with a sudden-acceleration prevention function.

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