Reexamine school routes to identify and fix spots where traffic is unsafe

Once again, there has been a heartbreaking accident. It is absolutely necessary to reconfirm the safety of school routes and protect children on their way to and from school.

Five children were killed or injured when a truck ran into a line of elementary school students walking on their way home from school on a city road in Yachimata, Chiba Prefecture. The male driver reportedly told the prefectural police who arrested him that he had bought shochu, a distilled spirit, at a convenience store prior to the accident and “drank it in the vehicle.”

Drunk driving was the cause of tragic accidents in the past and efforts were made to toughen the punishment. As a result, the crime of dangerous driving resulting in death or injury was newly established in 2001, and the number of annual fatal accidents caused by drunk driving, which had exceeded 1,000 up to then, has decreased to the 100 level in recent years.

It must never happen that a truck driver drinks alcohol during the day while on the job and gets behind the steering wheel. The prefectural police should strictly investigate whether his drunk driving had been an everyday occurrence.

Business owners who hire drivers need to thoroughly ensure that they are not drinking while driving their vehicles.

At the scene of the accident, the road is straight with good visibility, but the truck traffic was reportedly heavy. Residents have repeatedly requested the city government to install either a sidewalk or guardrails along the road, but nothing has been done, with the city citing the difficulty of purchasing land needed for that purpose.

In 2016, too, a truck ran into a line of children from the same elementary school on a nearby national road, injuring four students.

If measures had been taken at that time, the accident this time might have been prevented. Even if it was difficult to secure land, the city government should have done something, such as painting a line along the city road to separate the paths for pedestrians and cars.

There were other accidents in the past when vehicles crashed into lines of children. In 2012, in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, a boy without a driver’s license plowed a car into a group of elementary school students, hitting one after another and killing or injuring 10.

In 2019, preschool children were among 16 people killed or injured when they were caught up in a car crash that occurred at an intersection in Otsu.

In the five-year span up to last year, a total of 2,734 elementary school students were killed or seriously injured in accidents as they were walking, with 908 of them while on their way to or from school.

In the wake of the most recent accident, the central government said it will conduct a nationwide inspection of school routes. In a nationwide survey taken in 2012, about 74,000 spots along school routes were identified as dangerous. Measures have already been taken for 98% of the spots, but the location of the Yachimata accident was not among them.

It is hoped that the government will check again to make sure no dangerous spots were overlooked in the previous survey.

On school routes around the country, progress is being made to establish zones that set the speed limit at 30 kph or less. But there are still many places where measures are insufficient. The implementation of measures should be stepped up immediately to prevent the future sacrifice of more young lives.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 9, 2021.