Cyclists Reminded of New Left Side Rule

Byron Kidd
Just when I thought I understood Japanese cycling laws, I discover something new.

A new law will take effect on December 1st, 2013 which will ban cycling against the flow of traffic in an effort to reduce the number of bicycle related accidents police warned on Friday.

But hold on a second. Aren't bicycles already required by law to use the left lane? Well yes, but it seems there has been a legal loophole which the new law aims to close.

Woman cycles in bicycle lane in Tokyo, Japan
In Japan cyclists can cycle in both directions on sidewalks wider than 3m which are marked as shared use. When cycling on the road bicycles are required by law to keep to the left. So why this new regulation when a law already exists?

Many roads in Japan don't have space for sidewalks, but have a small area on each side of the road marked for pedestrian use by a single white stripe of paint. These side lanes are rarely wide enough for pedestrians to walk two abreast.  Under normal conditions pedestrians walk on the roads and when a vehicle approaches they drift, single file, into the side lane until it passes by then disperse to fill all the available road space again.

This revision to the Road Traffic Act pertains to those roads with side lanes. Until now there has been no law preventing cyclists from riding against the flow traffic in these narrow side lanes. Under the revised law bicycles must use the left side of the road at all times. Finally, some much needed consistency.

Cyclists who do not keep to the left-hand side of the road may face up to 30 days in prison or a fine of ¥20,000, police said. The key word in that sentence being "may", because as we all know cycling laws in Japan are rarely, if ever, enforced by the police.

According to National Police Agency data, 3,956 cyclists nationwide were given warnings in 2011, including 17 that reportedly led to fines, meaning that 3,939 cyclists broke the law, but were let off by the police. Is it any wonder cycling laws are largely ignored?

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  1. 30 days in prison is a bit lenient for those salmoners if you ask me ;-P

  2. i cant imagine the Police enforcing this new law since they completely ignore enforcing all of the other existing bike laws.

    1. I agree. With all the other laws on the books that the police do not enforce, adding another will have no effect. It seems the police only look to the law after an accident when it comes time to attribute blame.

  3. Perhaps irrelevant for Tokyo commuters, I live out in Niigata in the country and today I was stopped for signalling with my hand and turning right. There was no cars coming but i was told that that was dangerous and bikers are suppose to cross the street at pedestrian crossings. If there's no crossing, Im not allowed to turn or cross the street on a bike.

    1. Its true that cyclists are supposed to make a two point turn when turning right, but as with all laws it is enforced sporadically. If there is no crossing a cyclist is still supposed to first cross the intersection on the green light, then turn themselves right and wait for the next light to turn green before proceeding.

      I observe his on busy multi-lane roads where it makes sense, but not on smaller roads. I doubt many observe it in the countryside either.

  4. They should put every single rider that viaolates this law to jail for 30 days. This is the most annoying thing in Japan. In fact it pisses me off so much that I am this close to move from the country. Riding a bicycle used to be a stress relief for me. Back home I rode 10 000 km every year. Here is Japan if I ride 40K I will meet about 100 stupid, selfish and totally recles Japanese that ride agains the trafic putting me in danger. Riding a bicycle is no stress relief in Japan. It is pure torture.

  5. 8 years is Japan. 40 000 km on bicyle. I have never seen a Japanese rider singaling on hir/her hand or looking back before turning.

  6. You have a great way of this. I am so impressed that you have collected the information about this here. It is impressive too. I will go there for sure.
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