Cyclists are taking to social media to complain about the ambiguity of new traffic regulations, some of which give police leeway to call violations on a case-by-case basis.
To curb bike-related accidents, a revised traffic law that took effect Monday obliges cyclists aged 14 or older who are caught committing certain traffic violations twice or more in a three-year period to attend a safety seminar. If they refuse to attend the seminar, they face a fine of up to ¥50,000.
Obvious traffic violations such as ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, drunk biking and trespassing on railway crossings are clear cut. But in some instances, riders may also run into trouble if they cause an accident while using cellphones or earphones.
Since Monday, such riders have turned to Twitter to vent.
“Damn it. I was caught by the police just for checking my smartphone while waiting for a traffic light,” Twitter user @d_08121 complained on Monday.
“What’s up with this? The police just caught me for biking while listening to music,” said another, @sizukuking. “Since my light happened to be broken, they also told me I need to attend a seminar at the end of this month. What’s all this about?”
But the tweets suggest many of them are caught committing what the National Police Agency calls “safety violations,” which is a gray zone.
When contacted by The Japan Times, an NPA spokesman acknowledged that there is no clear definition as to what exactly constitutes these safety violations, saying each police officer is given the authority to make decisions on a case-by-case basis when cracking down on cyclists.
Among the safety violations are riding a bike while using smartphones, listening to music on headphones or holding an umbrella, said the spokesman. But it’s possible that cyclists who committed such deeds can get away scot-free if police officers determine their acts are not dangerous.
“For example, if no one is around, then chances are you can get away unpunished,” the spokesman said.
Each seminar lasts three hours and costs attendees ¥5,700, the NPA said.
There were 109,269 traffic accidents involving bicycles reported in 2014, down from 188,338 in 2004.
Despite the drop, the number of fatal bicycle accidents involving pedestrians, other bicycles or that did not involve a third party was 82 in 2014, up from 51 in 2004.