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Article: Handlebars or handcuffs?


The Crank Engine
Nov 1, 2005
Interesting article by Daily Yomiuri. :rolleyes:

Guys, make sure you are not drunk, have your headlights with you, don't use your keitais while riding and have no passenger on board. The cops are tightening up.

Handlebars or handcuffs?: Police crack down on drunk and careless cyclists, Part I

Hiroshi Akimoto / Yomiuri Weekly

It's not just driving after a drink that's seen as a danger these days--even riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol is an offense. This point was underlined last month when a national crackdown on cycling violations meant a drunken cyclist involved in an apparent traffic accident was arrested for "drunken riding."

When it's the cyclist rather than the driver getting arrested, it's certainly a change from your typical headline-grabbing case of tragic automobile accidents caused by drink. So it's no longer just a case of "don't drink and drive," it's more like "don't drink and drive, ride...or pedal."

The National Police Agency introduced its tightened regulations in spring in response to what it sees as a deterioration of traffic manners among bicycle riders. This tightening-up hasn't involved a slew of new legislation, but rather the stricter enforcement of existing laws concerning the riding of bicycles--some of which may come as a surprise to some cyclists. You can be fined, for instance, for cycling with an open umbrella.

In the accident in the middle of last month, a 36-year-old woman was arrested on the spot for riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol. The arrest under the Road Traffic Law took place in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.

According to Miyako police and other sources, the woman, an unemployed resident of the city, began screaming and shouting, insisting that she had been hit by a taxi and was in pain at about 10 p.m. on the night of the accident, which occurred in a local entertainment district.

The woman said she was hit by the car, which was waiting for a customer, when she was riding her bicycle out of an alley into the street. Even though there was no mark on the taxi indicating any contact, the woman repeatedly shouted out that the taxi had hit her.

"I'm in pain! You hit me. What are you going to do about it?" she was quoted as saying.

The taxi driver called the police. When police officers arrived at the scene, they arrested the woman--not him.

"There was no mark on the car to suggest any kind of collision and generally speaking, if a car hits a bicycle, you'll find it on the ground, but she was standing up holding the handlebars with an assured grip," a senior official of the taxi company said. "What she said was an unfounded accusation. There's simply no justification for her to be riding her bike on the road in the middle of the night when she's hammered."

The woman reportedly hurled abuse at one of the police officers who tried to conduct an alcohol breath test. The police then told her to try walking in a straight line, but she was unable to do so and instead attempted to escape on her bicycle.


Reaction to the first arrest

"It was the first time for us to arrest someone for the drunk riding of a bicycle. We wouldn't have bothered arresting her if she had admitted she was in the wrong, but there was just no way to deal with her," said Tsukasa Ito, the chief of Miyako Police Station's traffic division.

Ito had immediately given the go-ahead to arrest the woman after the officers at the scene contacted him.

According to police investigations, the woman had gone by bicycle that night to her favorite bar located in an area full of drinking establishments. She is believed to have been well intoxicated by the time she got to the bar after drinking at home. After drinking shochu she left the bar, apparently saying she was going to look for a friend.

"There was a large public reaction to the prefecture's first arrest in relation to the drunken riding of a bicycle. Some people were surprised to find out that a person riding a bicycle drunk could be subject to arrest. But many car drivers have said the arrest was the right thing to do," Ito said. "So far, there has been no criticism of the arrest. We believe the arrest was the right decision to make as a measure to prevent traffic accidents."

The woman was released after spending two nights in a police station cell and having her case sent to the prosecutor's office. She eventually told police that her story about being hit by the car was fabricated.

"She seemed to remember what happened that night. But she repeatedly asked what was wrong with riding a bicycle while drunk," Ito said.

In April, the NPA told police headquarters around the nation to strengthen controls over traffic violations by bicycle riders. The Miyako case was the first arrest after the controls were tightened. But many people have been held by police for questioning--without arrest--for riding bicycles under the influence of alcohol.

In May and June, there were 93 cases around the nation in which bicycle riders were charged for violating the law in cases of accidents involving bicycles and automobiles.

They include a case that took place in Osaka in May in which an intoxicated 35-year-old prison guard rode a bicycle into a parked passenger car, causing damage to the vehicle.

An 18-year-old male university student was charged for doubling up on one bicycle with a schoolmate in May. Apparently, he had repeated this kind of violation despite several police warnings.

In Sendai, a 15-year-old female high school student was held for questioning for riding a bicycle with another person in early August. She reportedly told police she never thought she would be chased by police for such an act.

The tightened police control comes in response to an increase in bicycle-related traffic accidents in which bicycle riders have been judged to be culprits rather than victims.

According to the NPA, there were 183,653 bicycle-related traffic accidents in 2005. A total of 846 people died and 184,686 were injured in the accidents, marking a 34 percent increase in the casualty rate compared with 10 years ago.

Collisions between bicycles and pedestrians numbered 2,576, marking nearly a fivefold increase in that figure compared with 10 years ago.

The NPA Traffic Bureau's traffic enforcement division said it decided to introduce stricter controls, including a crackdown on traffic violations by bicycle users, not only because of the increase in traffic accidents, but also in light of the deteriorating traffic manners of bicycle riders.

Bicycles are considered light vehicles under the law, and warnings or traffic tickets can be issued against those who violate regulations. They can also be arrested.

Last year, 1.12 million people were issued warnings--but not fined--around the nation. More than 60 percent of this total were held for questioning for either riding a bike with another person or riding without a light.

Those issued tickets are fined or given another form of punishment. Cyclists running stop signs or ignoring traffic signals, for example, can be fined up to 50,000 yen or imprisoned for up to three months, while taking a ride on the back of someone else's bicycle is subject to a fine of up to 20,000 yen. Those riding a bicycle without a light can be fined up to 50,000 yen, while those riding after drinking can be fined up to 500,000 yen or imprisoned for up to three years.
Handlebars or handcuffs?: Police crack down on drunk and careless cyclists, Part II

Mobile phone calls can cost 50,000 yen

Many people may not know this, but riding a bicycle with an open umbrella or on the right-hand side of the street are also violations of the law, while riding a bicycle while talking on a cell phone, another trend on the rise of late, can lead to a fine of up to 50,000 yen or even imprisonment for up to three months. These acts are violations of riders' "obligation to maneuver vehicles safely."

The number of those charged with riding a bicycle illegally has sharply increased over the past 10 years. Although there were only 10 such cases in 1996, there were 326 cases last year. One-third of the cases, or 111, involved stop sign violations, 105 cases were for ignoring traffic lights, and 36 involved other violations such as riding double.

There were 15 cases of drunkenness while riding. In April last year, a 56-year-old man knocked a woman down while riding his bicycle and was arrested on the spot for drunken riding. He had been trying to hurriedly snake his way through people on the sidewalk.

Oita prefectural police stop bicycle riders whenever they are found riding double or without lights. The police take the names of the bicycle riders and issue them with cards giving them guidance on riding safety and regulations. The police say they won't hesitate to book repeat offenders or those who ignore police instructions.

Aomori prefectural police didn't issue any tickets last year, although they did give out written warnings and guidance urging cyclists to take precautions. But they completely changed their position on the issue this year as part of a "tough stance against malicious violations."

The move to a stricter enforcement of controls is beginning to show results in the form of a decrease in those killed or injured while riding bicycles. The NPA said 422 people died because of bicycle accidents from January to July, down 21 from the same period last year. The number of those injured was 97,331, down 5,135 from the same period last year.

All the same, awareness of bicycles as a kind of vehicle seems to be lacking. The head of a bicycle sales company said traffic violations are often caused by people using cheap "mamachari" housewife bikes.

"They ride the bike as if it's some kind of disposable item. I suspect it's that kind of attitude that leads to violations."

The lack of desire to abide by rules is in one sense a psychological issue.

"You can see people talking on mobile phones while riding bicycles all the time," You Yahata, a clinical psychotherapist said. "It shows that the mindset of maturing within a set of social rules is being replaced by the idea that anything goes if we can get away with it."

It should be stressed, though, that cyclists are not only subject to criminal charges if they cause an accident. They may also have to pay a large amount of compensation or cover expensive medical fees.

In November, the Yokohama District Court ordered a 19-year-old who caused an accident with her bicycle to pay about 50 million yen in compensation to the accident victim. The exceptionally high compensation figure reflected the serious nature of the accident in which the cyclist, who was then a high school student, knocked down a 57-year-old nurse. The nurse has been unable to walk since the accident and has lost her job. The 19-year-old is said to have been talking on a mobile phone while riding her bicycle without a light at night.

So not only do we need to remember that a bicycle is a vehicle, we also need to remember that it can also become a powerful weapon.

(Sep. 24, 2006)

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