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Car hits pedestrians in Seoul on Saturday as concerns about senior drivers grow

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Two people were injured on Saturday after a senior driver drove into pedestrians near Seoul Station in central Seoul.

At around 9:20 a.m., the car, driven by a man in his 80s, plowed into a pedestrian near the station and hit another passerby after driving some 20 meters (65 feet), police said. The vehicle came to a halt after crashing into a wall. The two injured pedestrians were immediately taken to a hospital and reportedly did not sustain any critical injuries.

The man, who was not intoxicated at the time of the incident, claimed that the accident was caused by sudden unintended acceleration.

Multiple car accidents involving senior drivers have taken place in the capital over the past week.

A car drives on a sidewalk near Seoul Station in central Seoul on Saturday. The vehicle, driven by a man in his 80s, plowed into two pedestrians. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

On July 1, nine people were killed and seven were injured after a car driven by a 68-year-old man plowed into pedestrians near City Hall in downtown Seoul. The driver, identified by the surname Cha, also claimed that the accident happened due to sudden unintended acceleration.

During police questioning on Thursday, Cha, a veteran bus driver with over 40 years of experience, said he had stepped on the car’s brakes at the moment of the accident, but they were “stiff.” According to police, he was not found to be driving under the influence.

The car involved in the accident was a black Genesis G80 vehicle, owned by Cha’s wife, who was in the passenger seat at the time of the accident. The car was involved in at least six accidents over the past six years, according to local media outlets, citing data from Carhistory, a vehicle information data service operated by the Korea Insurance Development Institute.

Another three people were injured on Wednesday after a 70-year-old taxi driver crashed into the National Medical Center in Jung District. The driver, who claimed the car suddenly accelerated, tested positive for morphine — an opioid painkiller — in a simple reagent drug test administered after the incident.

The series of accidents has sparked concerns over elderly driving, with experts calling for measures to ensure safe vehicle operation by senior drivers, defined by Korean law as those 65 or older.

“Aptitude tests and safety training are done every three years for those who are 75 or older, but the tests have limitations with categorizing dangerous drivers as they don’t test their driving capabilities,” Yoon Hwan-gi, a professor at the Korea Road Traffic Authority, told the JoongAng Ilbo, this paper’s affiliate. “A regular system to test [the drivers’] response in urgent situations and judgment abilities should be drawn up.”

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon told reporters last Tuesday that a public discussion on senior drivers returning their licenses or the conditional issuance of licenses is needed after he visited the memorial altar of a public official who died in the accident last week.

According to the National Police Agency, there were 411,532 drivers 70 years old or above in Seoul last year. Of them, 25,489 have returned their driving licenses.

Other analysts point out that the driver’s age should not yet be blamed, as the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

“A hasty discussion on the cause of the accident without a precise investigation could lead to flawed policies that only provoke backlash from the elderly,” said Seol Dong-hoon, a sociology professor at Jeonbuk National University.

BY CHO JUNG-WOO [cho.jungwoo1@joongang.co.kr]