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Editorial: Fatal pedestrian crashes are the cost of Japan's car-focused policies

Two young boys have died and another three children severely injured after a truck drove into them as they walked home from elementary school in the city of Yachimata, Chiba Prefecture.

    In Japan, there is no end to cases of traffic accidents involving children on school routes. To prevent these tragedies being repeated, traffic rules that reduce the risks should be implemented.

    The driver of the truck in the latest case has told police he made a mistake while operating the steering wheel. Tests of his breath found alcohol levels above legal limits, and he has reportedly said he drank alcohol on his way back to work.

    Driving while drunk is highly dangerous and risks causing terrible accidents. The driver's sense of what it means to be a professional driver was lacking, and there are also questions over whether his employer's instruction and monitoring were appropriate.

    Harsher penalties and stronger crackdowns on DUI have led to fewer fatal accidents. Still, drunk drivers were linked to 159 such accidents during 2020. To eradicate this issue, further initiatives are required. Renewed inspections as to whether school routes are safe also need to go ahead.

    The road where the accident took place has no sidewalks or guard rail separating pedestrians and motorists. At the same time, the straight road with a clear view has a high level of traffic, and it is reported that a considerable number of drivers pass through while speeding.

    In 2016, a group of children who went to the same school as the victims in the latest accident was hit by a truck while walking on a road near the site of the recent case. Four children sustained injuries both minor and severe from the accident.

    In response to a 2012 accident in the city of Kameoka in west Japan's Kyoto Prefecture that killed three people including children headed to school in a large group, the national government confirmed more than 70,000 dangerous spots across the country, and works such as provisions for sidewalks and making road shoulders wider have been advancing.

    But improving roads requires money and time. Even areas that aren't dangerous can become accident scenes.

    To prevent further incidents, radical responses are essential. Tougher limits on cars driving through school routes should be considered. On roads which cars have to travel through, efforts are needed to stop speeding. Limiting the hours cars can go down certain roads is also worth considering.

    Fundamental rules that put pedestrians first should be thoroughly enacted.

    The proportion of pedestrians dying in traffic accidents is higher in Japan than in Europe and the U.S. The cause of this is a traffic policy that has advanced while putting the needs of motor vehicles first.

    To reduce traffic accident risks, there needs to be fundamental changes, including distinguishing between roads primarily for pedestrian usage and others for vehicle usage.

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