Thursday, April 12, 2012

Japan: Pedestrian Deaths in Kyoto Possibly Attributed to Epilepsy

A minivan ran through an intersection and struck pedestrians in a tourist-packed area of Kyoto on Thursday April 12), killing eight people including the vehicle's driver, and injuring another eight. The mayhem occurred in Koyota's main geisha district, packed with tourists and cherry blossom viewers.

Rescue officials and witnesses said the minivan went through a traffic light and entered a main intersection in the Gion district, hitting numerous pedestrians until it hit utility pole that stopped the careening vehicle.

The 30-year-old driver and seven pedestrians died; eight others were also injured, including several that were in serious condition.

COMMENT: Local media quoted the driver's sister as saying that he had an epilepsy-like illness and his physician saying they warned him not to drive because of his condition.

Japan has had a series of deadly accidents in recent years in which drivers having epilepsy have had episodes while driving.

In December 2011, a Japanese court sentenced a man to seven years in prison for fatally running over six children in Tochigi, near Tokyo, when he had epileptic seizures while driving a crane without taking required neurological medication.

As in many countries, people with epilepsy are often discriminated against. As a result, many conceal their condition even when applying for a driving permit. The government bans epileptic patients from driving unless medical authorities confirm they have not had seizures in the past two years and that their condition is medically controlled.

The Japanese Epilepsy Association appealed this week to the Justice Minister and the National Public Safety Commission chairman to seek ways to eliminate prejudice against epileptic patients, while taking but effective measures to raise awareness among themselves about the dangers of driving. The association says about 1 million Japanese have epilepsy, out of a national population of 127 million.

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