FUKUOKA – With an increasing number of foreign motorists taking the wheel while visiting Japan, numerous traffic safety measures have been introduced to assist them amid a rise in serious accidents.
Warning signs in multiple languages and a driver-assistance system catering to foreign tourists are just some of the methods to support visitors who rent cars and travel around the country.
Many of the foreign tourists who rent cars come from South Korea and Taiwan, where people drive on the right-hand side of the road, as opposed to the left in Japan. Foreign drivers can also be confused by Japanese road signs that are often different from those at home.
With the number of foreign visitors topping 30 million in 2018, their use of rental cars has jumped in recent years. About 1.41 million foreign visitors rented cars at airports in 2017, eight times more than in 2011, when the figure stood at 179,000, the transport ministry said.
The sudden leap in the number of international drivers has been linked to a rise in accidents resulting in death or injury, with collisions primarily caused by foreign visitors up from 25 in 2011 to 123 in 2017, according to the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis.
Last September, a yellow warning sign in Chinese and another in Korean, both saying “Slow Down,” were installed ahead of a long downward slope on an expressway in southwestern Japan — a section where many foreign visitors tend to brake hard.
In Okinawa, the National Institute of Technology Okinawa College has developed a driver-assistance system that instantaneously translates Japanese road signs into other languages.
The system is connected to a camera placed on a side mirror of the vehicle and automatically shows the road sign translations on a screen on the dashboard. It can also provide voice warnings in English, Chinese and Korean when the car approaches intersections known for accidents.
“I hope the use of this driver-assistance system leads to safer driving,” said Sumika Uehara, a 16-year-old student at the college. “I’d like visitors to bring home only happy memories from their trip.”
The school is aiming to put the system into commercial use.
The Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau has been distributing free booklets online in seven languages, including English and German, with explanations about Japan’s road regulations.
For example, there are illustrations on how to view traffic signals and rules explaining that vehicles going straight or turning left have the right of way.
In Tokyo, the All Japan Rent-A-Car Association is planning to develop a smartphone app covering driving etiquette.
The Kyushu District Transport Bureau has been handing out magnetic stickers for international drivers that can be placed on the rear of their car to alert other motorists that the driver is not Japanese.
“We’re asking local Japanese drivers to take precautions, including keeping a safe distance between cars,” a bureau official said of the stickers.