Last week the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that cyclists who repeatedly ignore red lights and commit other dangerous traffic offences will be fined.
Move on, nothing to see here. The Police in Japan have had the power to issue on the spot fines before today, they just neglect to enforce the law. Nothing new here.
According to Japanese traffic regulations there is already a catch all law that gives police the power to issue cyclists with an on the spot fine of Y50,000 for any form of dangerous cycling including, but not limited to ignoring traffic lights, cycling while holding an umbrella or mobile phone, even for cycling with a bag of groceries looped over the handle bars. In fact any activity that, in the eyes of the officer, impedes your ability control your bicycle can be punished with a fine.
Unfortunately Japanese police officers rarely enforce these laws and thus they are generally ignored by the cycling public. Police seem all too willing to let cycling offences go unpunished until such time there is an accident or complaint, after which there is a flurry of activity and announcements for what eventually become unimplemented plans to improve cyclists behavior.
In February 2012 police announced they would be cracking down on cycling offences by placing large numbers of police on the streets on the 10th of every month during commuting hours. The first police crackdown on cyclists went ahead with much media coverage, but following months there was no noticeable increase in police on the streets around the times of the announced crackdowns. Wouldn't it be more logical for the police did their job and enforce cycling laws every single day?
Recently we've seen proposals ranging from bicycle number plates to a plan to ban the sale of brakeless bicycles. In an announcement similar to the one made last week we were told that repeat offenders would be required to attend special bicycle training courses. So what is it? A fine? Attend a course? Both? Most likely the punishment is .. nothing at all, not even a warning from a police officer if he witnesses the illegal act with his very own eyes.
Announcements abound, but actions never seem to follow. It seems these announcements are intended to remind cyclists to obey the law.
So last weeks announcement boils down to "Police will start enforcing cycling the cycling laws they should have always been enforcing, so look out unruly cyclists". Which in turn translates into "Unless you cause, or are involved in, an accident you need not be concerned about police interfering with your cycling style, no matter how dangerous".
Unless the police enforce cycling laws constantly and consistently, the Japanese public will continue to cycle as they please.