Reference | FYI

PEDALING SAFETY

Cyclists who flout law face charges

Tokyo pits prosecutors against unruly riders as accidents surge

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Traffic accidents have witnessed an overall decline in recent years, but the percentage of cases involving bicycles is on the rise.

National Police Agency data show bicycles were involved in 20.8 percent of all traffic accidents in 2011, up 18.5 percent from 2001.

There were also 2,801 bicycle accidents involving pedestrians in 2011, up 994 from 2001.

To reduce cycling-related accidents, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in January that tougher action will be taken against unsafe riders in the Tokyo metropolitan area and that criminal charges will be pressed against those who repeatedly ignore red lights.

How many cyclists ignore red lights?

NPA data show that in 2010, police issued written warnings to 201,225 cyclists who ran red lights, compared with 105,851 in 2006.

2010 saw 725 traffic tickets issued for the offense more than 10 times the number issued in 2006, the data showed.

In Tokyo alone, 437 cyclists were ticketed for running red lights last year versus 55 in 2008, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Cyclists who break traffic laws may be issued a written warning, but those who receive tickets must appear before prosecutors.

What constitutes a serious violation?

An official at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office said that a cyclist who ignores traffic lights and breaks other laws at the same time is considered a serious violator.

A cyclist caught running a red light while talking on a mobile phone will get a traffic ticket. Prosecutors won’t press charges against first-time offenders, but second or repeat offenders will face indictment, he said.

If a cyclist is found guilty, the fine could be as high as ¥50,000.

How were ticketed cyclists treated before the rule change?

In general, a traffic ticket can lead to prosecution, but most people got away with verbal warnings. This was because it was widely considered too harsh to punish cyclists when motor vehicle violations were only being punished with fines.

However, given the increase in cyclists ignoring traffic signals, Tokyo’s prosecutors decided to start pressing charges against flagrant violators.

Have there been cases in which cyclists were criminally charged?

Starting around 2011, prosecutors in many prefectures began pressing criminal charges against riders of so-called piste bikes, which are racing bicycles that lack brakes. Cycling while intoxicated has also led to charges.

NPA data state that 3,956 traffic tickets were issued to cyclists nationwide in 2011, reportedly including 17 that resulted in fines — five for drunken cycling and 12 for riding without brakes.

How many fatalities result from bicycle-related accidents?

In 2011, the 121,004 cycling accidents involving cars killed 556 people. Those involving motorcycles and scooters killed 17.

The 2,801 accidents involving pedestrians caused six deaths, while those involving other cyclists resulted in just one death.

What other traffic rules target cyclists?

Under the Road Traffic Law, bicycles are considered light vehicles, thus they basically need to follow the same rules as drivers.

Cyclists should keep to the left, and, in principle, they must ride on the pavement and not on the sidewalk. They are banned from riding side by side with other bicycles.

Cyclists also need to observe traffic signals and use headlights at night. Riding tandem is also illegal unless bicycles are equipped with special seats for small children.

Other prefectures have their own regulations, including bans on using umbrellas, mobile phones or headphones while riding, to ensure cyclists are paying full attention to traffic.

Why are cyclists increasingly ignoring the rules?

Observers say that there are many cyclists who lack adequate knowledge about basic traffic rules and that they generally have the attitude that cyclists don’t have to adhere to them as strictly as motorists do.

An MPD survey carried out in 2012 on 1,009 Tokyoites found that about 44 percent sometimes, or often, ride on the wrong side of the road.

About 24 percent of them said they sometimes, or often, ignore red lights as well.

Asked if they felt cyclists’ safety awareness was improving, only 3.5 percent of the respondents said yes. About 31 percent said the situation was worsening.

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