SENDAI--Stickers alerting other motorists that a foreign driver is at the wheel are being distributed by tourism promotion organization here as part of efforts to reduce tourist-related car accidents.

The initiative is among a set of measures spearheaded by an industry group seeking to enhance the safety of rental cars driven by foreign visitors due to a spike in such rentals.

The northeastern Tohoku region, with its vast natural terrain and scenic landscapes, has seen a major increase in the number of cars rented by foreign tourists in recent years, especially in the autumn leaf-viewing season.

Across Japan, rental cars are involved in about 6,000 accidents a year, and the figure has been on a slight decline. However, a growing number of accidents involve non-Japanese drivers, according to the transport ministry.

Transport ministry figures show that the number of non-Japanese sightseers who rent cars nearly quadrupled from 179,000 in 2011 to 705,000 in 2015.

Such drivers were primarily responsible for 19 accidents in 2012, with the number rising six-fold to 121 in 2017, according to a study by the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis.

In January, the All Japan Rent-a-Car Association worked out an “action plan for improved rent-a-car services for visitors to Japan,” including wider use of stickers indicating that the driver is non-Japanese. Such stickers were distributed in 29 prefectures as of the same month.

It plans to expand the distribution area to cover all 47 prefectures of Japan by the end of fiscal 2019, with different regions allowed to choose their own designs.

According to the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization (TTPO), a consortium of local governments and tourism-related businesses in the region and elsewhere, there were 6,935 rentals to foreign drivers in 2017, up 2.67-fold from the previous fiscal year.

The growth rate is faster than the number of non-Japanese guests staying at accommodation facilities, which grew 1.46-fold.

"It's likely that there are many repeat visitors among non-Japanese tourists to the Tohoku region," a tourism promotion official said. "Seasoned travelers are likely renting cars repeatedly to travel in areas where alternative means of transportation remain weak."

By month, cars were rented 1,936 times in October in 2017, far more than any month of the year, suggesting that many people used cars to head for inconveniently located valleys to see the changing colors of autumn leaves.

To address the lack of alternative traffic systems linking sightseeing spots across the region, the TTPO in October 2017 began working with the six prefectural governments, rent-a-car associations and other parties to set up a council to promote inbound sightseeing tours using rental cars.

It distributed "foreign driver" stickers in September featuring a unified design across all six Tohoku prefectures to rent-a-car companies. The stickers are decorated with an image of a phoenix, symbolizing recovery in the region devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

"We made the stickers in the hope of preventing accidents," said Mikihito Suwa, a 57-year-old TTPO official. "We hope people will exercise consideration for vehicles with such stickers by, for example, keeping a safe distance from them, just as they do when they see a car with a beginner driver sticker."