Have you ever wondered why… ? In its latest issue, Sapio (Nov 10) begins a new section that takes questions about various topics and provides answers, which, as its headline claims, "are interesting and will infuriate you."
The first question taken up in the magazine is why the top speed on Japan's expressways never changes. Some major traffic arteries limit their speed to 60 km/h. Contrast this with Germany's Autobahn, which in principle has no speed limit, or Italy's Autostrada, with 130 km/h, or even one highway now under planning in South Korea that will permit speeds of 160 km/h.
Japan's roads, the article explains, are categorized into 16 ranks. The Tomei Expressway for example is a Type 1, Class 1 road, which means it is "designed" for a top speed of 120 km/h. There are moves to raise the top permitted speed on the No. 2 Tomei Expressway, now under construction, to 140 km/h.
The problem is that another law in force supersedes the road classification. And Article 27 of this law enables police to set the speed on expressways at 100 km/h.
The law went into force in 1968, the same year Toyota launched its first-generation Corolla. One would think that after 42 years, vehicle performance and safety would have improved somewhat; but despite better roads and more reliable cars, the law is still sputtering along at mid-20th century speeds.
Next, the magazine asks why the Segway hasn't made inroads into Japan. The electric-powered two-wheeled transporter received huge publicity when George W Bush presented one to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Several hundred were in use at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the Shanghai Expo, and they can even be found being rented by tourists in Washington DC and Paris.
In Japan, however, their use is not recognized outside of private property. The Segway, it seems, is caught in another of those legal loopholes. The Road Traffic Law classifies vehicles permitted on the roads as either "pedestrians," "light vehicles" (minicars, electric bicycles, etc.) and vehicles (automobiles and motorcycles, etc.) The Segway, being capable of moving at over 6 km/h (it can do about 20 km/h), does not classify as a pedestrian. Nor does it fill the requirement for classification as a light vehicle or conventional vehicle. Despite its ready acceptance in foreign countries like the U.S. or Europe -- and interest by some of Japan's regional governments, such as the waterfront promotion department of Yokohama City -- it's currently banned from Japan's roads and sidewalks.
How, asks Sapio rhetorically, can a country that uses old regulations as a shield to exclude new inventions ever be expected to come up with new industries or services?
The third question concerns the validity of a driver's permit. Drivers who go to extend their existing permits, provided they already hold a gold card or have had no more than a single, minor offense, may, upon passing a simple vision test, extend their permit for 5 years. The others are for three years, at a charge of 2,550 yen, plus in some cases additional outlays for the safely lecture fee.
In comparison, quite a few foreign countries place no length of validity on permits at all; others issue them with validity of 10 years.
Those renewing permits must also attend a safety lecture, which the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, explains: "The lectures are conducted with the objective of familiarizing drivers with knowledge necessary for safe driving and to raise their awareness of safety."
But Sapio is skeptical. It notes the quasi-governmental Japan Traffic Safety Association receives 500 yen in annual "membership" for every renewed license. This organization serves as a golden parachute for former bureaucrats at the National Police Agency.
In fiscal 2008, the association raked in 3.2 billion yen for supplying lectures and materials for license renewal. If Japan were extend permit validity to 10 years, the association's revenues would drop by one half.
"The longer a permit holder drives, the more skilled he becomes at driving," remarks Hideo Fukui, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. "Nobody seriously believes that safety can be realized by watching a video. It would be more meaningful instead if medical practitioners were obliged to confirm their familiarity with new technologies or revisions in medical laws."© Japan Today