• Kyodo

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While the number of fatal traffic accidents has been on the decline nationwide in recent years, those involving middle-aged and elderly motorcyclists have been increasing, prompting safety concerns among road-traffic authorities.

One of the main reasons for the increase is believed to be that those riders are mostly what police call “returning riders” who used to ride motorcycles when young but stopped using them as they grew older.

Some of them who became wealthy later in life are coming back to the hobby with larger, high-powered motorcycles, but their physical strength and reflexes have become much weaker than they realized, police said.

Early last month, a rider in his 40s was killed in a head-on collision with a car while touring in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, while a Nagano man in his 50s on a large motorcycle died when he crashed into a guardrail a few days later.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of fatalities in traffic accidents came to 4,373 in 2013, the 13th straight year of decline. Of the total figure, however, deaths of motorcyclists aged between 40 and 59 came to 170, twice as much as a decade ago.

Typical of the return biker trend, a 47-year-old man who runs a design firm in Tokyo bought a foreign-made large motorcycle three years ago, noting the bike would have been “too expensive to buy when I was at college.” He said many riders he encounters while touring say they obtained a license and rode cheap bikes when they were young but returned to motorcycling after retirement.

Indeed, sales of motorbikes excluding 50cc scooters have been brisk recently. In 2013, some 480,000 units, up 7.3 percent from the year before, were sold nationwide, industry group data show. About 56 percent of the riders are men in their 50s or higher.

Given the increase in traffic accidents involving such riders, the NPA recently organized a safety workshop aimed at middle-aged and elderly motorcyclists, the first of its kind.

Participants were taught the basics of riding big motorcycles, including proper clothing for rides and preride checks of their vehicles.

“People get older. Riders shouldn’t overestimate their physical abilities by keeping the image of their young days,” said an NPA official. “They need to pay more attention to safety.”

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