Serious Distracted Driving Crashes Hit Record High in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The National Police Agency in Tokyo

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—The number of serious traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers, such as those using smartphones while driving, hit a record high in Japan in 2023, police data showed Thursday.

The number of distracted driving crashes that caused any death or serious injury rose 34 from the previous year to 122, highest on records that can go back to 2007, according to the data compiled by the National Police Agency.

The risk of fatal accidents increased 3.8 times when a driver used a mobile phone while driving compared with when not using it, the data also showed.

In 2019, Japan tightened penalties for the use of smartphones and other mobile handsets while driving, tripling the fine to ¥18,000 for standard vehicle drivers.

The number of serious distracted driving crashes fell from 105 in 2019 to 66 in 2020 but kept rising from 2021. The NPA believes that the effect of the stricter penalties has weakened.

Of the total for 2023, 25 were fatal cases and 97 caused serious injury. About 10 pct of the drivers involved in these cases were operating mobile phones to talk, while 90 pct were looking at screens.

The data also showed that the number of fatal traffic accidents caused by people aged 75 or older driving vehicles or riding motorcycles increased by five to 384.

The most frequent cause was improper driving operation, such as steering wheel operation errors and stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake.

In the 384 cases, 392 people died—123 victims aged between 4 and 94, 232 drivers who caused the accidents and 37 passengers riding with them.

The number of serious accidents related to bicycles that caused any death or serious injury rose 354 to 7,461. The proportion of accidents involving pedestrians kept increasing from 2018.

Of the 141 serious accidents involving bicycles and pedestrians that occurred on sidewalks, 49.6 pct of the cyclists were under 25 years old, while 54.6 pct of the pedestrians were aged 65 or over. The accidents occurred most often during the morning and evening commuting hours.

In many cases, young people were speeding on bicycles and elderly people fell victim, the NPA said.