Motor vehicles in the wrong hands are deadly weapons. We’ve always known that, and harsh reminders came in the form of two April tragedies occurring within two days of each other – one killing a mother and child in Tokyo, the other two young adults in Kobe. Bicycles, we like to think, are innocent. Not so, says Josei Seven (May 2). Numbers, sometimes, speak for themselves. Between 2014 and 2018, according to the National Police Agency, 5,776 children were killed or seriously injured in traffic accidents – 34 percent of them involving a bicycle.
May traditionally sees a spike in bicycle mishaps. Spring is in full bloom, the bikes come out of the garage, everybody seems to be riding one. Maybe it’s the exhilaration caused by the fine weather, or maybe the long winter layoff has dulled our responses. Whatever the explanation, forewarned is forearmed – which is the point of Josei Seven’s article.
Note this, it advises: Bicycles are classed as “light vehicles,” meaning they are barred from sidewalks. That’s been true since around 1970. Before that, cyclists and pedestrians shared the sidewalk – to the all-too-frequent detriment of pedestrians struck from behind, often by bicycles they hadn’t even known were there. Police say nearly 100 percent of cycle-pedestrian collisions are the cyclist’s fault. Walkers and riders proved a dangerous mix. Now they’ve been separated. This saves pedestrians but forces on cyclists an uneasy co-existence with cars, trucks and buses. No wonder so many cyclists take their chances with the law (which imposes up to three months in prison or a maximum 50,000-yen fine on violators) and ride on the sidewalk anyway.
A generation or so ago the most common cyclist-pedestrian clash involved a young rider and an elderly pedestrian. Lately, police say, the perpetrator is as likely as the victim to be elderly. “As we age,” explains a National Police Agency spokesperson, “we tend to lose our powers of judgment, our reflexes and our sense of balance.” Deadly losses, for a cyclist! The elderly react slowly – more slowly than things happen around them. Finding the brakes at last, they bear down on them with a grip that may have lost much of its force. Compounding the problem, says Josei Seven, is the fact that many elderly riders are on electricity-assisted bikes, motors supplementing pedal power. These have a way of accelerating unexpectedly, and being that much harder to stop, especially to riders not fully accustomed to them.
Parents taking a child – or, more precariously, two children, mounted front and rear – to school also favor electricity-assisted bikes. Here the problem of balance takes on an added dimension. Make sure the kids are wearing helmets, the magazine warns. Sixty percent of serious bicycle accidents result in strong blows to the head – the equivalent, police say, of falling out a second-story window.
Two final cautionary notes: Drunk driving is generally associated with motorists, but drunk cycling is no less illegal, punished by up to five years in prison or a maximum fine of 1 million yen.
Lastly: no umbrellas, earphones or smart phones while cycling, on pain of being fined up to 50,000 yen.© Japan Today