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Japan Law Takes Effect to Get Cyclists to Wear Helmets, Faces Uphill Battle

A requirement for all cyclists to make an effort to wear a helmet as part of the revised Road Traffic Law came into force on Saturday, a measure aimed at reducing fatalities in cycling accidents but without penalties for not complying.

A survey conducted by a private company in February found that only about 20% who cycle on a daily basis always wear a helmet while riding, and police and local authorities are working to raise awareness and encourage their use as the majority of cycling fatalities involve head injuries.

The Kumamoto municipal government, which instituted a test run of a bicycle sharing program in cooperation with a private company, adopted the same type of helmet stipulation in a city ordinance last October, six months ahead of the revised Road Traffic Law.

However, the wearing of helmets has yet to become widespread among Kumamoto residents. Even on Saturday, when the national law went into effect, few people were bringing helmets to a shared bicycle lot in the city.

During the pandemic, bicycles gained attention as a means of transportation that avoids close contact with others. Shared bicycles became popular in the hope that they would make it easier to get around the city. Kumamoto had 143 shared bicycle lots as of the end of February.

While the service is popular, helmets are not so much. “To begin with, I don’t have a helmet,” said a 51-year-old female company employee who has used the shared bicycles. “Even if I did, it would be a bother to have to bring it with me to the lot, and I would feel uncomfortable using a helmet that someone else has worn.”

Sinanen Mobility Plus Co., operator of a shared bicycle service that operates mainly in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, led an internet survey of 1,299 people on helmet use in February.

The survey found that of those who use bicycle at least once a week, 67.9% were aware that cyclists would be obligated to make an effort to wear helmets under the revised law.

However, only 21.2% said they wore a helmet “every time” and 13.9% said “sometimes,” while 64.8% said they never did. The percentage of respondents owning a helmet was nearly 40%, and of those, about half said they always wear it.

When asked what measures are needed to increase helmet use, 47.3% of respondents said “developing a helmet that is easy to carry,” followed by 32.8% who said “increased publicity of the importance of helmet use,” and 29.4% who said “subsidize the purchase of helmets.”

According to the National Police Agency, in the five-year span up to 2022, the percentage of fatalities in bicycle accidents in which a rider was not wearing a helmet was about 2.1 times that of those in which a helmet was worn.

The Road Traffic Law had previously required parents to make an effort to have their children under the age of 13 wear a helmet. With the implementation of the revised law, the police are working to further educate the public.

The Fukuoka prefectural police department has designated two high schools in the prefecture as “model schools for promoting the wearing of helmets.”

At one of the schools, Meiji Gakuen High School in Kitakyushu, a ceremony was held on March 15 to mark the school being designated as a model school, with student representatives declaring that they intend to start wearing helmets.

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