By GEOFF BOTTING Weekly Playboy (Feb. 4)
With their habit of racing along pedestrian-filled sidewalks and ignoring the rules of the road, bicycles have long been a scourge of Japan’s city streets.
But perhaps no longer. The National Police Agency (NPA) — never mind the nation’s pedestrians and motorists — has had enough, according to Weekly Playboy. This spring, cops nationwide are expected to start collaring dangerous and annoying cyclists.
The crackdown would be backed by a revision — the first in three decades — to the NPA’s „Manual Concerning Traffic Methods.“ Drawn up late last year, the guidelines go into force this spring, adding five new cycling prohibitions: Wearing headphones, operating a cell phone, holding an umbrella or affixing one to the bicycle, carrying more than one child as a passenger and excessive ringing of bells*1.
Should a cop stop you for doing any of the above, you could be hit with a nasty fine. Cyclists with two kids on board, for instance, would be subject to fines of up to ¥20,000.
The tougher new police rules complement a comprehensive anticyclist crackdown instigated by the government. The revised Road Safety Law was enacted in June last year with the basic intent of clearing up a lot of gray-zone issues involving cyclists.
Notably, the legal revision treats bicycles as „light vehicles“ — just like motorcycles — and as such, cyclists are obliged to travel on roads*2, not sidewalks, where it seems 90 percent of urban cyclists prefer riding. And if cyclists can’t be bothered to switch on their lights at night, they could be pulled over, ticketed and made to pay a fine — of up to ¥50,000. That’s right: cyclists could be held up to the same standards as motorists.
„Until now, bicycles have been treated like pedestrians . . . and many of the people who ride bikes are mistaken in the belief that they are pedestrians,“ says a man, name not given, who runs a Web site for cycling enthusiasts.
Provoking the authorities‘ more aggressive attitude is the large number of traffic accidents involving bicycles. In 2006, such accidents numbered 174,000, accounting for 20 percent of the total.
But now the key question is whether the cops, who have long been taking a lax attitude toward cyclist miscreants, will actually follow their new rules to the letter of the law.
An anonymous police officer at a prefectural police force thinks so. „I think there’ll be a concentrated effort for several months after the manual’s revision comes into force. . . . Without a doubt, it will be easy for officers on the streets to get tough, now that the manual has clarified the issues.“
Yet perhaps the police’s bigger job will be to create a new awareness and sense of responsibility among urban cyclists.
„I don’t think riding manners will improve with a crackdown, but rather through a comprehensive form of safety education at schools and other places,“ the Web site operator says. He also notes that the cops on the beat often encourage cyclists to stick to the sidewalks for safety reasons — and to stay off the road.
So we can only wait and see until spring and beyond. Will our neighborhood cops actually step out of their koban (police box) to make the streets safer for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists alike? Stay tuned.
The Japan Times: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008
*2 …not really „notably“ Geoff…As a matter of fact, this has been the rule for the past 30 years although most people – including the cops who ride their bicycles on the sidewalks themselves (!!!) – are not aware of this. Hopefully this rule remains in force although there are rumored to be movements within the NPA to abolish bicycles altogether from the roadway…
Next time a cop tries to tell you to cycle on the sidewalk, remind him of the existing traffic law: „SHADOU WO HASHIRU NO WA, HOURITSUJOU NO GIMU DESU“ or better…next time you see a cop cycling on the sidewalk, remind him – with a stern look on your face – to cycle on the road like this: „OOOI KIMI! ABUNAI ZO! SHADOU WO HASHIRANAKYA!!….and watch his reaction!!