Meitetsu Bus Co.’s new bus is equipped with an emergency driving stop system. (The Asahi Shimbun)

NAGOYA--More buses in the Tokai region are equipped with safety devices that allow passengers to stop the vehicle in emergencies, such as when the driver loses consciousness.

The move by bus companies comes in response to a number of accidents caused by health problems of the bus drivers in the region.

Meitetsu Bus Co., a bus operator based in Nagoya, started installing the devices, called the emergency driving stop system, on its buses running within the city in late September.

The company’s new buses have an emergency brake button on the driver’s seat, and for passengers, another button on a handrail at the back of the seat.

When either button is pushed, alarms sound and an announcement saying, “Attention. We will make an emergency stop,” is made alternately in Japanese and English.

About three seconds later, the brakes are applied while the horn keeps blaring. The engine shuts down after the bus stops.

The braking distance depends on the condition of the road, but a bus traveling at a speed of 40 kph will run an estimated 50 meters after the button is pushed before coming to a stop.

A message in Japanese saying, “Emergency. Please report to police,” appears on displays that normally show the destination of the bus at the front, back and side to alert motorists and other people outside.

The system can be deactivated if a prankster sets it off.

The government drew up a guideline in 2016 and has provided subsidies to promote the wider use of the devices.

According to the transport ministry, 162 accidents were caused by health problems of bus drivers in 2017 in Japan, with 76, or nearly half, occurring in Mie, Aichi, Gifu, Shizuoka and Fukui prefectures under the jurisdiction of the ministry’s Chubu District Transport Bureau.

Two of the accidents resulted in death and injury.

Meitetsu Bus started using the devices on Sept. 28 on its main buses for the popular Honjigahara route in central Nagoya. The company plans to publicize the safety measure and introduce a total of 40 devices by the end of this fiscal year.

“Due to a shortage of bus drivers, we’re likely to have more elderly ones in the future,” said Takayuki Ban, chief of the project promotion department at the company. “We want to ensure the safety of passengers by carrying out the initial investment on buses.”

In Gifu Prefecture, Nakatsugawa-based Kitaena Kotsu Co. of the Meitetsu Group started using the devices on all of its buses running in Nakatsugawa city in mid-September. Tsu-based Mie Kotsu Co. has also installed the devices on some of its buses from October.