New traffic regulations went in to force in Japan on June 1. The new laws affect both cars and bicycles.
Motorists aged 75 or older are now required by law to display a momoji, maple leaf sticker on their cars. (The mark refers to drivers in the "autumn" of their lives and has drawn criticism for its "withered" symbolism). Drivers who have just passed their driving tests are given a "green" mark for their first year. Drivers failing to display the momoji sticker will be fined 4,000 yen (approx. US$38) and receive one penalty point on their license.
However, the law and its enforcement remain vague. The National Police Agency has said it will hold off imposing fines on the elderly for a period of 12 months until June 2009.
The wearing of rear seat belts also became "mandatory" from June 1 but only on expressways. Those not wearing seat belts on ordinary roads will escape a fine and be given a warning instead. This ordinance also applies to taxis and long-distance buses.
As for cyclists, it is now supposedly illegal to cycle while holding an umbrella, talking on a cell phone, smoking or drinking as well as carrying a pillion standing on the rear axle and cycling with two children in child seats fore and aft.
Pressure from mothers who transport their children to school in Tokyo has lead the police in the capital to ease off on imposing fines for carrying two children on a bike. It has always been illegal to cycle on the sidewalk - though most people do - unless cycling on the road "endangers" the cyclist.
Without new investment in proper cycle lanes, there is nowhere really for mothers to ride their children to school on their mama-chari (mom bikes) and the new laws, as far as they affect cycling, have failed to clarify a very muddled situation.
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Wednesday, June 04, 2008