The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office has officially announced that it intends to prosecute cyclists who repeatedly violate road traffic laws in Japan, as of Monday. Ignoring a red light or not stopping when necessary may also become subject to penalty, with a three-month jail sentence or a fine of up to 50,000 yen. In addition, riding parallel with other cyclists or failure to make use of one’s light under conditions of poor visibility could carry fines of up to 20,000 yen and 50,000 yen, respectively.
One would assume that a rise in accidents involving cyclists is behind the toughening of the law. However, lawyer Shinpei Kazusawa who represents law firm Very Best, suggests otherwise.
“There has been a clear decrease in road accidents involving automobiles and bicycles. However, the number of bicycle related accidents, compared with 10 years ago, has seen an increase of 13%.”
With the law as it presently stands, only motorists are subject to penalties for small breaches of the law such as illegal parking. What’s more, as one would naturally expect, settling the fine protects one from prosecution.
Contrastingly, cyclists are exempt from any such penalty, however are theoretically subject to prosecution. Nevertheless, it is feared that prosecuting a cyclist over a small breach would make a mockery of the current automobile traffic laws and so up until now, authorities have been reluctant to enforce the penalties. Under the new system, bicycle and automobile laws will be more or less on an equal footing.
“The tightening of the law is obviously a strategy to reduce any further bicycle-related accidents. But it’s also a sign that many citizens are dissatisfied with the leniency of the current road traffic laws.” (Hironori Oze, Lawyer)
There are, of course, plenty of people who feel that being penalized for ignoring a red light and the like are a little too severe. Kazusawa comments: “Up until now most cyclists have avoided arrest or any form of penalty. Usually what is issued is a ‘guidance warning ticket.’ In 2011, there were around 2 million warning tickets issued, in contrast to which only 4,000 arrests were made. Whilst arrests make up a meager 0.2% of cases, they have admittedly been on the increase in recent years. For example, even if the infringement is slight, being the subject of arrest means through an indictment at court, the defendant can be financially penalized.”
No doubt the latest strengthening of traffic laws will leave many reflecting upon how they behave on the road, but what’s ultimately important is that laws are there to protect us. If tougher laws mean a reduction in accidents I’m sure no one will have that much room for complaint.
Follow me on 2013 Salsa El Mariachi single speed and my cycling companion Brian as we explore the countryside of rural Niigata ken such as small mountain villages, historic buildings, fantastic scenery, onsens, local cuisine. Cycling as it should be relaxed and enjoyable .
A 47 year old Kiwi who has recently returned to Oamaru, New Zealand to be closer to my family and other like minded people who share similar interests.
I am trying to simplify my lifestyle these days and sold my car about 2 years ago so now only cycle or walk everywhere. I also have started wearing the Scottish kilts that have hung in my wardrobe for years, now I get to wear them and other traditional clothes everyday, That may seem eccentric to some but I'm sure it will make a lot of sense to the people who have known me for many years