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Japan police agency to discuss non-criminal penalties for cyclists breaking traffic rules

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TOKYO -- Cyclists who violate traffic laws should be subject to a new system of fines that don't result in criminal records, according to an April 15 interim report by a National Police Agency (NPA) expert panel.

    The extremely low indictment rate for the many cyclists committing traffic offenses has led the expert panel to demand making them accountable for violations with a system requiring they pay small fines.

    The NPA will begin discussion on the new system's establishment while keeping in mind possible revisions to the Road Traffic Act. The expert panel asserted that traffic enforcement needs strengthening against cyclists violating regulations, while it also took into account that the widespread use of electric kick scooters and other vehicles will lead to a complex traffic ecosystem.

    Under the new system, cyclists committing traffic violations will be required to pay fines. They won't be considered criminal penalties nor will they be included in criminal records. The panel discussed making the system applicable to people aged 14 or older, and plans to verify riders' identities by having them present driver's licenses, student cards, or other forms of ID. As there is no driver's license system for bicycles, there will be no penalty point system either.

    Since 2006, police have cracked down on cyclists' malicious traffic violations, such as running red lights. In 2020, police clamped down on a total of 25,465 cases, over 40 times the 2006 tally. In the majority of cases, police issued traffic tickets to violators, which indicate entry into criminal prosecution procedures. Currently, in the event that traffic violators are subject to a summary indictment by public prosecutors, courts impose fines among other criminal punishments.

    But in practice, only 1 to 2% are indicted for alleged Road Traffic Act contraventions. Criminal fines remain on an individual's criminal record, and it appears that, when comparing the wrongdoing with other crimes, prosecutors are reluctant to indict all but the most malicious traffic violations.

    Regarding using traffic tickets to enforce traffic law on cyclists, the interim report claimed that "the level at which individuals are being held criminally responsible remains starkly insufficient." It stated that as a replacement for the current system, "small fines and other effective means to curb violations should be considered."

    (Japanese original by Noritake Machida, Tokyo City News Department)

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