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Toughening up of traffic laws aimed at improving road safety for cyclists

Cyclists in Japan’s capital city who repeatedly infringe traffic laws could reportedly face up to three months’ imprisonment after the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office announced it planned to crack down on law-breaking riders.

Rocket News 24 reports that offences such as failing to stop at a red light may also be punished with a fine of up to ¥50,000 (£350) or three months in jail.

The website says that failure to display lights when required will also attract a fine of ¥50,000, while “riding parallel with other cyclists” may result in a fine of ¥20,000 (£140).

It points out that while cyclists are currently potentially liable for prosecution for what it terms minor offences, in practice that does not happen, with authorities said to be cautious over taking action against bike riders when motorists, for example, can escape prosecution by paying fines in cases such as parking violations.

Lawyer Hironori Oze told the website: “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.” 

Rocket News 24 agrees that increased road safety appears to be the motive behind the crackdown on law-breaking cyclists, although as another lawyer, Shinpei Kazusawa points out, “There has been a clear decrease in road accidents involving automobiles and bicycles,” before adding, perhaps confusingly, “the number of bicycle related accidents, compared with 10 years ago, has seen an increase of 13 per cent.”

According to Kazusawa, “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 [that sounds extremely high to us, but it’s what the Rocket News 24 article says – ed], in contrast to which only 4,000 arrests were made.

“Whilst arrests make up a meagre 0.2 percent 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 penalised.”

The Rocket News 24 article concludes with its author expressing the hope that “If tougher laws mean a reduction in accidents I’m sure no one will have that much room for complaint” – although many would point out that there are much better ways of improving cycle safety than fining those who break the law or even throwing them in jail.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.