Delivery van accidents up by 80%

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A car with a black license plate delivering packages is seen (this vehicle is not directly connected with this article).

Serious accidents caused by light minivans used mainly for delivery services increased by 80% in the five years to 2021, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, most of the drivers involved in such accidents — resulting in serious injury or death — are believed to have worked as independent operators, ferrying packages on behalf of delivery companies.

Overwork may be rampant among such drivers, who are not subject to labor regulations, amid the growing use of online shopping. This has likely contributed to the increase in the number of accidents.

The Yomiuri Shimbun obtained data compiled by the National Police Agency and the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis, a Tokyo-based public interest incorporated foundation, to analyze accidents that have occurred since 2010.

It was found that vehicles with black license plates — which are given to light minivans making deliveries — caused 365 serious accidents in 2021, up by 83% from 2016. Of them, 21 cases involved fatalities.

There were 4,616 accidents overall, including those resulting in minor injuries, in 2021, up by 26% from 2016. Of this number, 80% occurred while drivers were on the job. Accident sites were concentrated in residential areas of big cities, where demand for home delivery is high.

The number of items handled by major home delivery companies increased 50% from 10 years ago to about 4.8 billion in fiscal 2020. Amid this situation, the online shopping market relies heavily on vehicles bearing black license plates.

Drivers of vehicles with black license plates only need to submit a notification to start work. This system has apparently contributed to the recent increase in the number of self-employed drivers entering the delivery business.

However, these drivers are not covered by the Labor Standards Law and are therefore not subject to regulations on working hours and other matters. This may lead to situations in which they are overworked.

According to a survey conducted last year on individual drivers by a relevant labor union, one-quarter of the 83 respondents said they had worked 12 hours or more a day, while half said they had worked at least six days a week.

Too many packages

More than 30% of accidents involving deaths or injuries were caused by black-plate vehicles driven by people who had been licensed for less than 10 years.

Last October, a second-grade student in elementary school suffered serious head injuries when he was hit by a black-plate car at an intersection in a residential area in Kanagawa Prefecture.

“With so many packages to deliver, I was in a hurry and wasn’t watching carefully while I was driving,” the self-employed driver in her 20s who hit the boy said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The woman had started working as a delivery driver a year before the accident. The month after she obtained her driver’s license, she signed an outsourcing contract with a delivery company. She said she sometimes had more than 200 packages to deliver a day and rarely had time to take breaks.

She had her driver’s license suspended following the accident, but resumed work in April. “I can’t earn enough money from other jobs,” the woman said.

The boy’s father said: “My son is still afraid of cars. The transportation company outsourcing the delivery work should think more about safety.”