crime

Ikebukuro fatal accident puts spotlight back on epileptic drivers

32 Comments

The issue of drivers who suffer from epilepsy is back in the spotlight after a woman was killed and four other persons seriously injured when a car hit them on the sidewalk and then plowed into a clothing store in front of JR Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo last Sunday night.

Police have learned that the driver of the car, Shoichiro Kaneko, 53, who is a doctor, has suffered from epilepsy for 20 years and has been receiving medication for the condition from a hospital once a month for the past nine years.

Kaneko has been charged with negligent driving resulting in death. He was quoted by police as saying that he had no memory of the incident as he had dozed off at the wheel at the time when he drove his car into a Zara store on the first floor of a building in Ikebukuro. He said he was not drunk, nor on drugs, but was just exhausted after driving for about seven hours that day. A urine test showed no sign of any drugs in his system, police said.

Five men and women pedestrians ranging in age from their 20s to 70s were injured. Of the five, Toshiko Ebata, 41, suffered a severe cranial fracture and died in hospital early Monday morning, police said.

According to police, Kaneko drove out of an underground car park in front of Ikebukuro Station just before the accident. Witnesses said that he stopped his car for a moment, before then accelerating approximately 50 meters forward onto the sidewalk and then into the front of the shop.

Police raided Kaneko’s home and found his hospital card and some medication for epilepsy, Fuji TV reported. Kaneko’s doctor told police that he needed to take his medicine once a day, otherwise he could have seizures. He said that Kaneko’s driving ability would not be affected as long as he took the medicine. However, Kaneko has not said whether he took the medicine on the day of the accident.

Under a new law that went into effect in May 2014, anyone who suffers from epilepsy and wants a driver’s license must submit a letter from a doctor affirming that they are OK to drive. They must also reveal if they have any conditions or ailments that could impair their driving ability.

Police said that Kaneko apparently did not state that he had epilepsy when he last renewed his driver’s license in 2013, Fuji reported.

Under the new law that went into effect last year, causing death while driving drunk or as a result of a chronic condition, such as epilepsy and hypoglycemia, is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Furthermore, anyone who hides a medical condition that may affect their driving when they apply for a license faces a penalty of one year in jail and a fine of 300,000 yen.

Medical professionals who are aware that their patients suffering from epilepsy or schizophrenia are driving, are required to report it to public safety authorities.

The revision to the law came as the result of a series of deadly traffic accidents. Among them was an incident in Tochigi in 2011 in which six children were killed by a crane truck, and another in Kyoto in 2012 in which eight people were killed by a minivan. In both cases, the drivers had concealed their epilepsy when applying for their driving licenses and had seizures at the wheel.

Although the maximum imprisonment period for causing deaths due to reckless driving was 20 years, a loophole in the law meant that the severest penalty only applied to "incidents occurring under normal driving conditions." Because of this, most cases were labeled as involuntary manslaughter where the maximum sentence was only seven years.

The new law changed the way courts deal with cases and sentencing. It expanded on existing regulations by stating that under the influence of alcohol, drugs and "special illnesses," the normal ability to safely operate a vehicle is severely impeded and can lead to fatal casualties. The term "special illnesses" refers to conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia.

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So I would generally assume that the next step would be to have this chap pee into a beaker and screen his urine. Then again, a dosage of once a day would imply that his medication is both quick to act and quick to disappear. Perhaps this avenue of investigation is already too late.

At the same time, however, if this chap hide the fact of him having an underlying medical condition, perhaps the prosecutors could daisy chain a conviction. In other words, start him off on a simple "obstruction of justice" (hiding his epilepsy) and then working from there.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japan sure loves its lip-service and loopholes! But this doctor hit the triple whammy (you could argue); he caused at death while driving during a seizure (likely), he had concealed his illness by not reporting it, and it could be argued that as a medical professional he had to report himself (or else his doctor who did not is in big trouble), or since he did not should be in even bigger trouble.

So, maximum 15 years for the single death, plus one year and the 300,000 yen fine for concealing the illness. Then add additional time for those injured, and lawsuits by the survivors and families.

Perhaps now people with epilepsy might think a little more about concealing it or not taking their meds, and CLEARLY this guy was off his.

My guess is, though, that he won't get the max penalty for any of the crimes, and this issue will only be enforced after deaths occur. Sorry, but people with epilepsy should NOT be allowed to drive. Period. It's unfair, but tell that to the dead.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Hopefully driverless cars will make stories like this a thing of the past in the not so distant future.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

So the police only found out after they raided his home? In other words, even after the accident and even after being arrested and undoubtedly questioned, he still wasn't fully open with police about what might have caused the accident? And of all professions, he's a doctor. This story just gets worse and worse. I really feel for Ebata's loved ones and those that were injured.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Traffic police should revisit and review the issue of driving license to these patients also should review old people who are very slow in responding to signals and other traffic regulation ... it is ridiculous that you drive behind an elder who is doing 20~25 km/hr on 40 km/hr road , that lead to many people try to overtake and had near miss as I can see on the roads every day.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

M3: Unless the driver forgets what he programmed in. This is a very strong possibility.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

They going to arrest the mother of this guy again this time?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Then add additional time for those injured, and lawsuits by the survivors and families.

His insurance should cover those costs.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Only 15 years for taking a person's life, while knowingly and intentionally concealing an illness that could potentially severely impair his driving ability. This why Japanese laws a so screwed. No thought for the victims. A person is DEAD because this self entitled a-hole quack ignored the law and thought he could drive. I hope the surviving victims take this jerkoff for everything he has.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Epilepsy medication, like most medications that affect the brain, are slow-acting. On average they take 2 weeks to reach the desired level, and then a daily "maintenance" dose is taken thereafter. Skipping on day's medication would NOT cause the person to suddenly have a seizure if they've been under control for 9 years. The police have obviously misunderstood the doctor or the doctor doesn't understand how the medication works - this being Japan both options are about equally likely.

The reason here is simple. He drove for 7 HOURS!!! He was exhausted and fell asleep.

No magical thinking required here people, just a simple case of the typical Japanese "gaman" attitude instead of a little common sense and saying, "I'm tired, I should take a 30 minute nap before I drive so that I don't drift off and accidentally kill some people".

Experience in Japan has taught me that the vast majority of Japanese drivers are driving exhausted and this is probably the number 1 cause of accidents in Japan - but there are major cultural barriers to giving common sense advice like, "If you can't keep your eyes open then you really should pull over and have a nap"

3 ( +6 / -3 )

In the United States I was both no medication and under control of my epilepsy yet my doctor decided to report me to the Department of Motor Vehicles and have driving privileges revoked. This is required by law and I can not complain as it is what any physician should do.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Frungy is correct, there is so much misinformation regarding epilepsy that people with the disease do not report it , do not discuss it and do not tell anyone.

people even restrict relationships - do you want pass on a disease to children?

but if you have stayed on medication for that long frequently you are told to retake a sleep eeg and then you are offered the choice- come of the medication or remain on it.

99.9% remain on the medication for life with a negative sleep eeg- scared that one missed dose would do them in

this was probably just him falling asleep- still a bad act, just as criminal as anyone falling asleep at the wheel instead of taking time and resting- but probably not the result of epilepsy

but now i can see the push - sounds like special markings on the license, perhaps revocation of all licenses - the feeding frenzy has started

0 ( +2 / -2 )

So if your unlucky enough to have a medical event such as anyerism, heart attack etc and someone gets killed then your going to go to jail?? sounds ridiculous These things happen all the time around the world such as in Australia recently....where guy went unconcious at wheel and hit gas cylinders and 20 people were injured and 2 killed.....i dont think he was charged and wont be going to jail

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

It's challenging enough to navigate the urban streets and roads in Japan stone-cold sober, sharp and alert, nevermind with some serious medical condition (even well-treated). No, he shouldn't have been behind the wheel at all. Seizures happen even under medication.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Regardless of being an epileptic, there is still something that doesn't add up! Why did he stop his car and then accelerate onto the crosswalk and into the shops? He stated he was driving for seven hours prior to the accident, but he was leaving a parking area. I am no Barnaby Jones, but this guy's stories has more holes in it than Swiss cheese!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, driving is a responsibility, not a right!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Experience in Japan has taught me that the vast majority of Japanese drivers are driving exhausted and this is probably the number 1 cause of accidents in Japan

I'm curious of what experience this would be.

Why did he stop his car and then accelerate onto the crosswalk and into the shops?

If he had a seizure, he would have maybe stopped his car, then had a seizure and stepped on the gas.

He stated he was driving for seven hours prior to the accident, but he was leaving a parking area.

He may very well have been driving for seven hours before stopping to do whatever he did while he parked his car.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

So there are substantial penalties if you have epilepsy and get caught causing an accident, but there are no incentives to just not drive to begin with?

Why is this? We need to use the carrot, not the stick.

Today's society is designed to favor automobiles and to get as many people as possible to drive. (Japan is actually much less of an offender in this regard than, say, the USA or Australia.) Many residences, businesses, and employers offer free parking. Property taxes offer incentives to have a garage rather than more living space. A driver's license costs only a few thousand yen per year - not enough for many people to voluntarily not obtain one.

We should instead be making the roads safer by offering incentives for people with epilepsy, impaired vision, and old-age-related slow reflexes to not drive. How about a substantial tax break in exchange for never being allowed to drive? Make it high enough that people who might be just barely able to drive, like Mr. Kaneko, will think seriously about giving up driving. Enough to make up for all the opportunities he will lose, and the increased costs he will bear,

Then watch how much safer the roads become with people like him (and the 85-year-olds who mistakenly step on the accelerator, and the folks with 0.601 eyesight, and anyone else whom the roads would be safer without) not driving.

Make it Y500,000 per year. Maybe Y1,000,000. The entrenched automobile industry will fight tooth and nail, but it's worth looking into. When you consider all the services that non-drivers cannot consume, I don't think this is too high. Then these people will be made whole and will not have an incentive to get behind the wheel and cause fatal accidents like this one.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Mirai Hayashi

Only 15 years for taking a person's life, while knowingly and intentionally concealing an illness that could potentially severely impair his driving ability. This why Japanese laws a so screwed. No thought for the victims. A person is DEAD because this self entitled a-hole quack ignored the law and thought he could drive. I hope the surviving victims take this jerkoff for everything he has.

At least this idiot has been tried and sentenced. It could be worse; a Scottish rubbish lorry driver did something similar to this. He was dismissed from a bus company because he kept having blackouts then got a job driving a rubbish lorry but failed to disclose the blackouts. One particular blackout later in Glasgow in 2010 and six people were killed. The families of those involved are now seeking a civil prosecution as nobody else seems to want to do anything about it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-33959101

Generally speaking, I believe that anyone that has a pre-existing health problem that could lead to a loss of control of any vehicle should never be allowed to have control of a vehicle.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

As a general rule, the epileptic patients can drive if he or she have not had any seizures for more than two years. The Road Traffic Law regulates as such. But if the patients lie or conceal, the law is practically ineffective to prevent the accidents.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So if your unlucky enough to have a medical event such as anyerism, heart attack etc and someone gets killed then your going to go to jail?

Did you even read the article? There is a big difference in having a sudden heart attack and an epileptic seizure that he knew could occur without medical treatment, He KNEW he had a medical condition that would severely impair him from driving. He failed to report this fact when the required him to do so...AND he's a fricken doctor!!! This is why deserves to be in jail, so have some more sympathy for the victims and not the jerk who chose to ignore the law and his condition and killed a person.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The doctor should have given up his car license when he was diagnosed as epilepsy. He is really idiot.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It's a hard thing to say, but no epileptic should be driving unless his or her neurologist can be absolutely certain that he or she is safe to drive, and that would be very difficult to be certain of. And this fellow, s a doctor, should have been particularly aware of the possibility of a seizure after being exhasted from a long drive; that was criminal, and it is appropriate that he has been treated as such.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

praack: "this was probably just him falling asleep- still a bad act, just as criminal as anyone falling asleep at the wheel instead of taking time and resting- but probably not the result of epilepsy"

Wrong! If you fall asleep you do NOT stop the car (or let it roll to a stop) and then slam on the gas. Nor do you get out after plowing through people and into a shop, get out your car, and shout in fits, "Dare ga warui no?? DARE ga warui no??" (which he is reported to have done, based on other posters and sources) and then claim to have no memory of ANY of it.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

My sister has been epileptic all her life and thankfully medicine has helped her. Epileptics who do have seizures do not remember what happened. My sister never remembered have any attack when she was a child. Luckily I had this experience with my sister when a student in one of my classes had a seizure. I recognized it immediately and made sure he did not fall down and hurt himself. Despite a shaken class, this student eventually felt better. He also did not remember what happened. I just do not think epileptics should be allowed to drive. My sister has been taken to work for years.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The real question here is was he just exhausted & fell asleep, or was it a fit? Epileptics who have seizures and are not restrained tend to "wake up" quite exhausted due to the muscular effects of the seizure (plus if they hit anything during the seizure). Certainly my family members who have had them in the past have, every time, been well aware they'd had a fit despite having had no memory of it. Also, epilepsy drugs now tend to be fast acting, so I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't found in his system (though I am no doctor).

Probably at this stage only the man himself will know if he really suffered a fit, but I'm sure the authorities will throw the book at epileptics nonetheless.

@smithinjapan I've never known any epileptic to have been able to recover enough to even walk by themselves immediately following a fit, let alone the other actions you describe. In my own experience people take several minutes to regain full consciousness & yet you say he stopped the car & then got out of his car shouting. If anything, what you describe would fit perfectly with him having fallen asleep. You've obviously never known an epileptic.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Mlodinow: "Certainly my family members who have had them in the past have, every time, been well aware they'd had a fit despite having had no memory of it."

If they looked around and saw people lying on the ground, and their car a wreck, you think if they immediately thought themselves culpable they'd necessarily 'be well aware they had a fit' (sorry, and that they'd admit to it?)? Maybe your parents would. Maybe this guy would not.

"You've obviously never known an epileptic."

Wrong. I have known more than one. Did I say he leapt out of the car and started singing showtunes? My cousin has epilepsy, in fact, and his seizures, when he has them are what are classed as "complex focal seizures" (he showed me the card he has to carry on him and his medic alert bracelet). I was with him a total of three times when he had seizures. Two were 'mild', and with one he just started acting strange and muttering, and smacking his lips and kicking out his legs when he walked. I tried to talk to him and he got angry, wandered around a bit (fortunately my aunt recognized what was happening and told me not to panic and what was happening), and a few minutes later he just kind of stopped and looked at us in a kind of daze. He couldn't remember what happened, and while he said he was tired his mom asked if he could stand, we did, and we walked back to their car where he sat down again. It was hard to tell if something was going to start again or not. The second minor seizure we were at his house and I barely even knew what happened except that he was acting strange, fiddling with the buttons on his shirt and mumbling again. Lasted about half a minute, then he looked at me and said he thought he had a seizure and went to tell his mom. The bad one he had that I was witness to he became unconscious during the attack and had his whole body starting shaking. I freaked out, at which point his mom, who was nearby, came and saw him and took care of him. It lasted about a minute or so, easing gradually, and he woke up a half minute or so later. After THAT one he did not get up but stayed lying there for a bit, exhausted. My aunt told me it was a different kind of seizure and "those were the bad ones".

Point is is that there are different types of seizures, and yes, some you can get up from, walk around in a daze, and be confused enough that if people are panicking or shouting -- especially at you -- you can react aggressively.

My cousin is not allowed to drive. He says it's inconvenient, and sad, but he recognized the dangers.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Mirai HayashiAug. 19, 2015 - 07:01PM JST

Only 15 years for taking a person's life, while knowingly and intentionally concealing an illness that could potentially severely impair his driving ability. This why Japanese laws a so screwed.

First of all, 15 years is not so different from what you get for killing a person while driving drunk in the U.S. Secondly, even if the max sentence were 30 or 40 or 50 years, do you think this guy would have done anything differently? The law was already revised from the "loophole" 7 years to 15. You can raise the max sentence all you want, but stupid people still make stupid decisions so you're always going to have cases like this. Just like drunk driving; people know the risks and the punishment if you kill someone, but they still do it. I just think that blaming the law when some people are going to break it anyway is pointless.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Simply put if you have been instructed not to drive, the potential hazards of getting behind the wheels aren't worth it to yourself or to others period. Therefore anyone with epilepsy has a responsibility to follow his physician's advise and if they are wise will try to cope with seizures in a safe, meaningful way. On the other hand a wise physician would have discussions concerning seizures with their patients and especially the consequences and record it in the patients medical record to protect himself against future liability.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This happened a few years ago also and the laws didn't change then they probably won't now.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes, I still vividly remember watching TV reports in 2012 about a similar epilepsy-related traffic accident which occurred in Gion, Kyoto packed with lots of tourists killing eight people including an epileptic driver if I'm corrrect.

From the above and the incident this time around, the matter of epileptic drivers should be gone over strictly once and for all.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

MyTimeIsYourTime: Unless the driver forgets what he programmed in. This is a very strong possibility.

They're not gonna leave that part of the programming up to the driver.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

surfer21Aug. 19, 2015 - 08:04PM JST So if your unlucky enough to have a medical event such as anyerism, heart attack etc and someone gets killed then your going to go to jail?? sounds ridiculous

None of those are chronic, so no.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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