From this month, people caught engaging in reckless cycling must take safety lessons under the revised Road Traffic Law. The revised law should serve as a reminder to cyclists that they can cause serious and even fatal traffic accidents. People need to learn to follow traffic rules and use proper judgment when riding bicycles.
The enforcement order for the revised law classifies 14 acts as reckless cycling, including ignoring traffic lights, failing to stop at intersections where required, speeding on sidewalks, using bicycles whose brakes do not function properly, riding under the influence of alcohol and riding while using a smartphone or listening to music through earphones. The police will issue traffic tickets to cyclists aged 14 and older who have committed such violations. Cyclists who have received two or more tickets within three years will be required to attend a three-hour safety education program, and failure to do so within three months will result in a fine of up to ¥50,000. The program includes tests on traffic rules, the reading of notes written by victims of cycling accidents or their bereaved families, and the viewing of videos of real bicycle accidents.
The public should be made aware of traffic accidents involving bicycles. Last year there were 109,269 accidents involving bicycles — about 20 percent of all traffic accidents. Deaths occurred in 542 of them. The annual number of fatal accidents involving bicycles but not cars and trucks rose from 51 in 2004 to 82 in 2014. Violations of traffic rules by cyclists show no signs of abating, with the number of tickets issued to cyclists reaching 7,716 last year, a sharp rise from 268 in 2006.
Bicycle riders should be aware that they or their families can face enormous financial burdens if they are involved in accidents that result in severe or fatal injuries. In July 2013, the Kobe District Court ordered the parents of a fifth-grader who struck and severely injured an elderly pedestrian to pay ¥95 million in damages. In January 2014, the Tokyo District Court ordered a male cyclist to pay ¥47 million to the family of a pedestrian he hit and killed. Cyclists would be wise to take out bicycle insurance policies. In March, the Hyogo Prefectural Government enacted the nation’s first by-law making such insurance compulsory when bicycles are purchased.
Like other vehicles, people are supposed to ride bicycles on the roadway in principle. In a National Police Agency survey asking why cyclists do not follow the rule even though they know it, 462 of 790 respondents said they cannot follow it because of bad traffic conditions. The survey underlines the need for the national and local governments to create paths or lanes exclusively for cyclists, or to demarcate lanes for bicycle riding either on roadways or sidewalks.
According to the transport ministry’s recent annual survey on such efforts by municipalities across the country, 55 of the 106 towns and cities surveyed that have large numbers of accidents involving bicycles said that they either will consider such steps in the future or have no such plans at all due to the cost of such measures. The national government may need to provide financial support to promote such measures. The police and schools should also educate children on the rules they must follow when riding bicycles.