TOKYO — A Japanese court on Thursday sentenced a 90-year-old former senior government official to five years in prison for a 2019 car accident which killed a 3-year-old girl and her mother, in a high-profile case in a fast-aging country where elderly drivers have become a safety concern.
The Tokyo District Court convicted Kozo Iizuka, a former top official at the trade and industry ministry, of negligence resulting in death and injury. His wife, who was a passenger in his car, was among nine people injured in the accident.
The death of the girl and her mother triggered an outpouring of sympathy and worries over the risk posed by a growing number of elderly drivers, prompting some to return their driver’s licenses.
Iizuka said a mechanical problem with his car caused it to go out of control and pleaded not guilty in his trial.
The court upheld the prosecutors’ contention that an inspection after the accident found no mechanical problems with the car. There was no evidence that Iizuka applied the brakes before his car hit the victims at a speed of 96 kilometers (60 miles) per hour at a crosswalk in downtown Tokyo.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of seven years in prison.
Iizuka was hospitalized for injuries he received in the accident and was not arrested until his indictment last year. He was seen as having received privileged treatment by the authorities because of his elite background, triggering a public outcry.
The government in recent years has stepped up a safety awareness campaign for elderly drivers, including offering driving lessons, promoting use of cars with additional safety features and encouraging older people to return their licenses.
About 17% of Tokyo’s traffic accidents last year involved elderly drivers, according to police.