The National Police Agency on Oct. 25 told the police across the nation to strictly enforce cycling rules and give traffic tickets to bicycle riders who maliciously pose a danger to pedestrians.

The NPA took this step because an increasing number of bicycle riders are ignoring the rules and many deaths and injuries are caused by bicycles. 2010 saw 151,626 accidents involving bicycles or 20.9 percent of all the traffic accidents. Since 2008, slightly less than 500 people have been killed yearly while riding bicycles — about 60 percent of them elderly. In Osaka Prefecture, the number of bicycle-related accidents causing injury or death has increased by about seven-fold since 2000.

There is a bicycle boom of sorts in Japan. One factor behind it is the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. On that day, trains were knocked out of service in the Tokyo area and many people had problems getting home. Having personally experienced or seen this, many people started using bicycles to commute to work or school.

But it seems that the rule that bicycles in principle must use roads, not sidewalks, is largely ignored. Riding bicycles on sidewalks is allowed only under certain circumstances under the Road Traffic Law. Bicycle riding on sidewalks is allowed, for example, when a sidewalk has a sign allowing such riding, when people aged 70 or older or children under the age of 13 find it dangerous to ride their bicycles on the road or when road conditions are such that it is impossible to ride a bicycle there. Mothers carrying children on their bicycles are allowed to ride on sidewalks but must go slowly.

In addition to the law, the NPA has five rules governing the use of bicycles that are not well known or often ignored: Bicycles on roads must keep to the left; on sidewalks pedestrians have priority over bicycles, on sidewalks bicycles must stay to the side closest to the road; and children must wear helmets when riding bicycles.

The following actions while riding a bicycles are against the rules and common sense: riding a bicycle while using a cell phone or listening to music through a headset; riding bicycles fast on sidewalks or threading between cars on the road. In addition, some people ride fixed-gear (called “piste” in Japan) track bicycles on the street, however, it is illegal to do this because they have no brakes and often no headlights.

Bicycle riders should carefully follow the rules and always use common sense. Equally important, the police must increase their efforts to make cyclists aware of the rules they must follow.

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