Photo from Old Photos of Japan: Cars and street cars (trams) and at least one brave bicyclist in Nihonbashi, central Tokyo, 1934
New data from the National Police Agency show that car-related fatalities are decreasing dramatically in Japan, while bicycle accidents are on the increase: The number of people who died while riding a bicycle increased by 5 percent to 310.
Fewer traffic fatalities have been reported in other countries too, linked to higher gas prices, such as the United States. But Japan's record drop is remarkable. The National Police Agency says the number of traffic deaths from January to June this year was only 2,200. This marks the 9th straight year of decline, and a more than 70 percent drop from the peak figure of 7,735 deaths in 1970.
Image from Japan Bicycle Culture Center: Car and bike in front of Tokyo Station, 1914
In addition to high gas prices, the real reason traffic deaths are decreasing in Japan is likely to be greater seat-belt use after it was made mandatory last June for rear-seat passengers to wear seat belts. Bicycle helmets are not mandatory in Japan, and much more needs to be done for the safety of cyclists (But attempting to ban mamachari bikes, as we reported here and here, has not been popular, and there is no evidence to back up the claim that they are particularly unsafe).
Why are American drivers more unsafe than Japanese?
Traffic fatalities in the US are higher than in all other OECD countries, and almost 3 times higher than in Japan (Graph adapted from IRTAD pdf)
Compared to the US, Japan's traffic fatalities are much lower: The US has an average of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people, while Japan only has 5.7 deaths per 100,000 people. (Data from OECD)
While news reports have noted that traffic fatalities are also going down in America, last year's death toll was put at 37,313. In Japan, with about half the total number of cars, the fatalities were only 5,115. That is still a terrible toll, but it shows clearly that fewer cars, higher gas prices, and less driving are the best solutions not only for the environment, but - obviously - also for human health.
Written by Martin Frid at greenz.jp