The Inoues began a crusade to get drunk drivers off the road, collecting 374,000 signatures on a petition to toughen Japan's penalties. On Nov. 28, 2001, the anniversary of the accident, the Diet, or parliament, passed a law imposing a maximum prison term of 15 years for the crime of dangerous driving resulting in death. In June the following year, the government also stiffened the penalties for drunk driving, raising the maximum fine to $4,200.
And last week, a Tokyo District Court judge awarded the Inoues a record $2.1 million in a civil suit they filed against the truck driver, 59, and his employer, the Kochi Tsuun trucking company. The defendants were ordered to make the payment in annual installments on the anniversary of the daughters' deaths.
Makoto Matsumoto, an Osaka attorney, said it is uncommon for a Japanese judge to consider a person's grief or dedication to social issues. The Inoue case will have a potent deterrent effect, he believes, because it not only broadens the standard for determining compensation in a drunk driving case but also holds the employer responsible for the driver's behavior.
The toll from drunk driving has already started coming down. According to the National Police Agency's latest report on traffic safety, there were 997 fatal accidents caused by drunk drivers in Japan last year, down from 1,191 the previous year, a 16.3% drop.
7,269 people (65 years and older) died in motor vehicle crashes in 1998 (compared to 7,236 in 1997, 36% more than in 1975). 81% of elderly fatalities were passenger vehicle occupants; 16% were pedestrians.
About half of the fatal crashes involving drivers 80 years and older occur at intersections and involve multiple vehicles, compared with 23% among drivers up to age 50.
Per mile driven, drivers 75 years and older have higher fatal crash rates than drivers in other age group except teens.
Per licensed driver, fatal crash rates rise sharply at age 70 and older.
Those 80 years and older have the highest pedestrian death rates per 100,000 people.
People 65 years and older represented about 13% of the population and about 18% of all motor vehicle deaths in 1998. By 2030, the elderly are expected to represent 20% of the population.
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