Photo/IllutrationAfter the deadly accident, six yellow cylindrical cushioning barrels are installed at the sidewalk of the crossing in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, on May 13. (Senichiro Ando)

More than a week after the deadly car crash that killed and injured about a dozen nursery school toddlers in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, a makeshift memorial was set up at the site.

The memorial, overflowing with flowers, confectioneries, stuffed toys and other offerings to the souls of the two children who died, spoke volumes about the great sorrow and shock the accident has caused among people.

Two 2-year-olds were killed and 14 others were injured, some seriously, when a mini-vehicle that had been struck by another car crashed into a group of children and nursery school staff while they were waiting on the sidewalk for a traffic signal to change.

The tragic accident came as a fresh, graphic reminder of the grim fact that automobiles can quickly become “lethal weapons,” especially for pedestrians.

Drivers are, of course, wholly responsible for operating their vehicles safely. But there are many other ways to prevent serious car accidents.

In particular, efforts to protect pedestrians should be stepped up. Roads and sidewalks should be checked and appropriate safety equipment and facilities, such as guardrails, buffers, traffic signs, crossings and traffic signals, should be installed at dangerous locations.

Since the nursery school in Otsu has no playground, child-care workers regularly take children out for walks to the shores of Lake Biwa.

There are no pedestrian crossings near the nursery school. To travel from the facility to the shores of the lake, children need to cross a T-junction where two heavily trafficked prefectural roads meet. The intersection is located several hundreds of meters from the nursery.

According to police, a passenger vehicle was making a right turn at the junction when it hit a mini-vehicle driving straight through from the opposite direction. The impact apparently propelled the mini-vehicle onto a sidewalk, where the 16 children and teachers were standing.

There was nothing to shield the sidewalk from the danger of vehicular traffic. Only parts of the sidewalk had curbs.

Following the accident, the Shiga prefectural government installed cylindrical buffers at the site. But the local administration needs to work with police to examine and assess the safety of areas around the accident site including all nearby pedestrian crossings.

After a spate of traffic accidents involving schoolchildren including a 2012 deadly crash into a group of elementary schoolchildren going to school in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, school-commuting roads for some 20,000 public elementary schools were reviewed for safety.

More than 74,000 dangerous locations were identified, and safety measures have already been taken for most of them, according to the education ministry. The steps that have been taken include widening the shoulders of the roads and installing guardrails, signals and crossings.

But the roads used for walks by kindergartens and nursery schools were not covered.

After the latest accident, the central government has urged local administrations to thoroughly check the safety of roads used by kindergartens and nursery schools for out-of-facility activities. But the central government has a duty to provide all necessary policy support to their efforts.

To identify dangerous spots, it would be useful to seek related information from a wide range of local residents. The safety conditions of many school-commuting roads have probably changed over the years due to such factors as projects to develop land for housing or the construction of new large stores within the areas. The conditions in such areas should be re-examined.

The central government has tried to ensure that the tragedy will not discourage kindergartens and nursery schools from offering out-of-facility activities for children like walks. While stressing the need to ensure the safety of children, the government has pointed out that giving children opportunities to come in contact with nature around them and observe the daily lives of local residents has great educational importance.

The number of child-care facilities without playgrounds has increased, especially in urban areas. Walks and other out-of-facility activities are vital for their educational purposes.

Keeping children inside the facilities out of concern about possible accidents would impede the healthy growth and development of children.

Efforts to create a safer traffic environment for children to walk around would also help boost the safety of such high-risk pedestrians as elderly or disabled people.

The accident in Otsu has underscored the need of philosophical and cultural shifts toward putting the top priority on pedestrian safety.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 16