Many of the people killed or injured in Friday’s horrific bus crash in Nagano Prefecture may not have been wearing seat belts, as required by law.
The Road Traffic Law, which was revised in 2008, requires bus drivers to ask passengers to wear seat belts on all buses, with the exception of those that run only on local streets. Many drivers, however, are lax in enforcing this rule.
A number of passengers aboard the Nagano-bound bus said neither of the two drivers made such a request during the trip. Fourteen people, including the two drivers, were killed.
At least one passenger waiting in line for a long-distance bus service at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station said he has bypassed the rule.
“I often use the night bus, but I’ve sometimes skipped fastening my seat belt. It’s uncomfortable, but I should try wearing it tonight,” said the 23-year-old male office worker from Chofu, western Tokyo, who was waiting to go to Nagano.
Other passengers said previous similar accidents had prompted them to buckle up.
“I’ve decided to always wear a safety belt after one bus accident on the Kanetsu Expressway,” a 35-year-old male office worker from Nakano Ward, Tokyo, said after returning from a ski trip to Niigata Prefecture. “That way, I would have a greater chance of surviving.”
In the Kanetsu accident in 2012, a tour bus traveling from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, to Tokyo Disney Resort in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, crashed into a guard wall near Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture, killing seven people.
Despite the likely renewed focus on buckling up, some bus drivers voiced difficulties about enforcing the rule.
“I call on passengers to fasten their seat belts, but some unfasten theirs so they can chat with friends sitting behind them,” said a 50-year-old man who drives a night bus between Tokyo and Nagano.
Another driver, a 62-year-old man, voiced similar experiences.
“Passengers tend to ignore our requests,” he said. “Some leave their seat belts unfastened after a bathroom break.”
Statistics compiled by the Tokyo police show that in 2014 a total of 107 people sitting in back seats without being buckled in died in car accidents — a figure roughly three times the 36 who had been buckled in and were killed.
According to October research conducted by the Tokyo police and the Japan Automobile Federation on vehicles with fewer than 10 passengers, 71 percent of back-seat passengers wore seat belts on highways, while a mere 35 percent did so on local roads.