September 24, 2013

Japan's Autumn Road Safety Campaign Begins

Notice an over abundance of crossing guards on your way to work this morning?

Saturday marked the beginning of the National Police Department's Autumn Road Safety Campaign which means for the next week every street corner will be manned by police officers, retired police officers and civic minded volunteers all armed with whistles, high-vis vests, and yellow flags.  Their mission, to treat the entire population of Japan like first graders by holding their hand as they cross the road. Because, you know, roads are dangerous and as pedestrians and cyclists we need constant police protection (well, for the duration of the symbolic road safety campaign at least).

In the past during this campaign, if you're a cyclist you could expect to be accosted multiple times even on a short bicycle commute by the over zealous police.  One year I was lawfully cycling down the road when a police officer stopped me and told me to cycle on the sidewalk. I argued that the law states that bicycles must use the road but he insisted I cycle among the pedestrians. To avoid a scene I cycled the sidewalk till the officer was out of sight and proceeded to cycle past 4 other police officers who couldn't care less that I was cycling on the road.

Recently however there seems to be less enthusiasm from the police and volunteers manning the road safety tents haphazardly erected on every street corner. Over the past few years volunteers have merely sat in the tents and observed traffic flow by rarely lifting a finger to point out an infringement, and hardly seeming to have the breath to blow a whistle.

Really these events are quite a farce as they focus on "protecting" pedestrians and cyclists rather than ensuring that motorists obey the law thus making roads safer. Rather than guarding pedestrians as they cross the road under a green light the police should be stopping motorists for running red lights or turning into intersections without giving way to pedestrians and cyclists.  They should be making the roads safe so pedestrians and cyclists do not need protection. This is after all a "Road Safety Campaign" is it not?

road safety campaign poster in japan
Essentially for the duration of the event police herd pedestrians across the road, and shepherd cyclists out of the way of cars, all because of the belief that if pedestrians and cyclists get out of the way of motor vehicles then accidents will not occur. They believe pedestrians and cyclists to be the cause of accidents rather than the victims when they should be ensuring motorists, the most dangerous presence on the road, are obeying the law.

Roads are not the exclusive domain of motor vehicles, and the police better wake up to the fact that its the vehicles, yes bicycles included, that need policing not the pedestrians.

If the police are serious about getting cyclists off the sidewalks and onto the roads then steps need to be taken to ensure the roads are safe for all.

And finally the police need to enforce the law consistently and continuously through out the year, not just in short bursts during bi annual road safety campaigns, or monthly crackdowns.

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