Photo/IllutrationA van passes through a crosswalk while pedestrians are still walking across it in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward in July. The van’s license number has been modified. (Yuko Kawasaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

In seeking to make Tokyo streets safer for overseas visitors, police are cracking down on motorists who plow through crosswalks without traffic signals even when pedestrians are present.

“We would like to make sure that foreign visitors will not be involved in traffic accidents” due to reckless drivers ignoring the law, said an official with Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Hordes of overseas tourists will descend on Tokyo next year for the Olympics and Paralympics. Stopping at crosswalks when there are pedestrians present is the norm in the United States and European countries.

But in Japan, many motorists blow through crosswalks without traffic signals even when there is a pedestrian waiting, despite the requirement to stop under the Road Traffic Law.

A violator faces a fine between 6,000 yen ($57) and 12,000 yen. If the offender causes an accident and is indicted, the accused faces either a sentence of up to three months in prison or a fine of up to 50,000 yen.

In a recent incident in the Kamata district of Tokyo’s Ota Ward, several people crossing a crosswalk without a traffic signal near a shopping area were stunned when a car sped through just about 1 meter ahead.

The MPD reported the man who drove the car as a suspected case of violation of the law.

Asked why he did not stop, the man told The Asahi Shimbun, “I was in a hurry.”

In the capital’s Toshima Ward, police officers issued a warning to a 72-year-old taxi driver when he drove through such a crosswalk in front of JR Otsuka Station.

“There were an endless stream of people at the crosswalk,” he told The Asahi Shimbun. “I thought pedestrians would stop for me.”

The MPD said more than a small number of cars keep driving through crosswalks without traffic signals in this area while honking their horns at crossing pedestrians, let alone not stopping for them.

A 65-year-old Swedish man lamented that too many cars in Japan fail to stop.

Although the overall number of traffic violations is on the decline, the death toll from being hit by a car while walking across a crosswalk without a traffic signal is not, according to the National Police Agency.

In 2018, 90 people were killed in such cases, 13 more than in 2017. Of the victims, people who were 65 or older accounted for 80 percent. The number of injured in 2018 was 4,415.

A study conducted by the Japan Automobile Federation in 2018 showed that only 8.6 percent of cars surveyed stopped when pedestrians were waiting at crosswalks without traffic signals. The study covered 11,000 cars at 94 such crosswalks.

A proposal has been made to slightly elevate crosswalks without traffic signals and place a sign warning motorists to slow down for the road hump.

The new setup is expected to encourage drivers to give top priority to the safety of pedestrians by patiently waiting for them to cross.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yuko Kawasaki, Chihaya Inagaki and Takuro Yagi.)