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Thousands receive warnings as new seatbelt laws kick in

Date Posted: 2008-06-06

Seat belts are now required for back seat passengers, and older drivers must now display signs to alert others they’re on the road, as revisions to the Road Trucking Vehicle Law rolled into effect Sunday.

In its first day, police officers issued warnings to more than 2,800 drivers in Tokyo alone when they found back seat passengers not buckled up. The National Police Agency has, however, told officers to go easy on drivers for the foreseeable future until drivers get used to the new law. It says officers will begin cracking down in the Fall.

Included in the new penalties for violations are provisions that all violators on expressways will be charged a one-point penalty. Taxi and tour bus drivers who permit back seat passengers to ride without seat belts fastened with be hit with the punishment. Some passengers, such as pregnant women, fall into a special circumstances exemption to the revised law.

While new drivers and older drivers have long been required to post a yellow-and-green sticker on their cars to advise others, the revised law mandates drivers 75 and older to post the warning display signs. Those violating the rule will be fined ¥4,000 and assessed a one-point penalty on driving records. Police say they’ll not begin hitting elderly drivers with the new penalties until next yar.

Other provisions of the revised Road Trucking Vehicle Law permits individuals with deep hearing problems to now obtain driver license, so long as they install wider mirrors on their vehicles. Children under 13, and people 70 and older, may now ride their bicycles on sidewalks. Police say bike riders of other ages may only ride on sidewalks if their being on streets would cause possibilities of accidents.

Americans serving with the U.S. military have long been required to have seat belts on all passengers in vehicles, including in back seats. With the law change, the rules apply to Americans driving off base, as well.

The National Police Agency’s statistics, quoted widely this week in Japan Times articles, show that fatalities are four times higher for back seat passengers not wearing seat belts, compared to those who wear them.

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