Go-karts have become a common sight on Japan’s busy streets, but safety concerns were raised Thursday when police data showed that 50 accidents had occurred in Tokyo over a recent 11-month period.
Foreign drivers were involved in 86 percent of the crashes, which took place between March 27 of last year and Feb. 26, according to National Police Agency data released Thursday. Out of the 50 accidents, 43 involved foreign drivers.
On Feb. 23, a 35-year-old Taiwanese man driving a go-kart was arrested on suspicion of negligence resulting in injury after hitting an 18-year-old male cyclist and driving away.
Go-kart tours are popular especially among foreign tourists, many of whom wear costumes resembling those of Nintendo Co. game characters such as Super Mario, but accidents have sparked safety concerns.
Drivers are not obliged to wear helmets or seatbelts, and are legally permitted to drive at speeds up to 60 kilometers per hour.
By nationality, 15 drivers involved in accidents came from the United States, 10 from South Korea, seven from China and Taiwan and six from Australia. Other foreign nationals included those from Singapore, Canada, the Netherlands and France. A total of 47 foreign drivers were involved.
By age group, 27 drivers were in their 20s and 14 in their 30s, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the foreign drivers involved in crashes. The oldest known driver was 54 years old. One driver’s age was unknown.
Out of the 50 accidents, 48 resulted in property damage while two resulted in injuries.
Given safety concerns, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has decided to boost safety measures and make seatbelt use compulsory.
The ministry is also considering other regulations that would require the low-slung vehicles to be at least one meter off the ground and display taillights at their highest point.
Since May, police have urged operators to encourage drivers to wear helmets and protective gear.
“We want to prevent accidents by collaborating with (go-kart) service providers, as demand from foreign visitors could increase further in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” a senior NPA official said.
A Japanese or international driver’s license is required to drive a go-kart on public roads. The vehicles are typically equipped with a 20-to-50 cubic centimeter engine.
Rental operators, including eight in Tokyo, provide go-kart tours in tourist areas across the country.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5