Following a surge in the number of fatal accidents involving electric wheelchairs getting stuck at rail crossings, the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE) has started an investigation.
The move came as the death toll from such rail crossing accidents has reached five so far this year, against a total of four in the past 10 years, according to sources.
Using the investigation results, NITE plans to call for users’ attention.
Helpful for people with weak arm and gripping power, electric wheelchairs are a key transportation means for elderly people.
According to the National Police Agency, 144 to 242 people in electric wheelchairs were injured in accidents each year between 2008 and 2017.
The number of people in electric wheelchairs killed in accidents at rail crossings stood at one in 2008, two in 2012 and one in 2013.
This year, five died in such accidents in Yamanashi, Aichi, Hyogo and Wakayama prefectures in the January-September period. The victims were aged between 69 and 90. With their wheelchairs stuck at rail crossings for various reasons, trains failed to stop in time despite hard braking.
For example, On September 16th 2018, at around 7:15pm, wheelchair user Hirokazu Mukai, aged 73, was attempting to use a crossing located in between Hankyu Rokko Station and Oji Koen Station (crossing pictured below) on the Hankyu Kobe Line in Nada Ward, Kobe.
The Kobe Shimbun reported that a combination of a stuck wheelchair and an inactive safety sensor that detects objects on the tracks possibly contributed to his death.
Accidents occurred in succession this year, said a senior official of an electric wheelchair makers’ association.
The accidents may have been caused by batteries running out or wheels getting stuck in gaps at rail crossings. Stalled wheelchairs at crossings could cause serious accidents, and devices to detect obstacles at rail crossings are designed for bicycles and thus often fail to react to electric wheelchairs, which are more compact.
In March 2017, the welfare ministry urged prefectural governments to have welfare equipment manufacturers inform electric wheelchair users of the need to check battery levels and move at a right angle to rails. The ministry also called for users to find an alternative route if possible and not crossing the rail tracks at all.