A December 1 post from Japan Today reports on changes to the law banning bikers from riding two-up on the expressways here:
Motorcyclists will be allowed to ride double on certain expressways from next April, the government said Tuesday. The new rule, which applies only to motorcyclists aged 20 or older who have held a driver's license for more than three years, is part of the revised Road Traffic Law enacted in June.Now, generally speaking, whenever rules restricting where and how I can ride are relaxed, I am happy about it. I am especially happy about this particular change, because I'll be able to go touring with my girlfriend. It's just not practical to cover even modest distances (like, around 100 kilometers) in Japan without hitting the expressways at some point. One time, we tried riding down from Tokyo to Atami for a soak in an onsen, but wading through red lights on Route 246 and other choked streets stretched the trip to over four hours and completely wiped out whatever romantic feelings I had hoped to generate by taking her to an onsen in the first place.
The prefectural public safety commissions have the power to ban motorcyclists carrying passengers on certain expressways, for safety reasons. The Tokyo Public Safety Commission is still studying whether to allow motorcyclists to ride double on the busy but narrow Metropolitan Expressway, officials said.
So this is definitely a good thing. But let's look into it a bit deeper.
We have a law which addressed a problem that sounds scary -- helpless bike passengers mangled in grisly smash-ups! -- but has never been shown to exist. If there were any breathless media reports about a rash of gruesome accidents involving motorcycles -- but only if the rider is on the expressway, and only if he is carrying a passenger, and only if he's in Japan -- then I have not seen them.
So the powers that be in Japan have realized that there is no reason to ban riding two-up on the expressways, which is good. And they are actually changing the law, which is even better.
But it would be too much to expect that this pointless restriction be struck from the books entirely. Only some roads will be affected by the regulatory change. On the others, it's the same old routine. Plus, you have to be at least twenty years old. And even then, you have to have held your license for at least three years.
Is there a substantial difference in skill between a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old? Or between someone who's been licensed (not riding, mind you, just licensed) for 1 or 2 years, and someone who's been licensed for three?
Have any studies been done suggesting that three is the right number, or did it just sound good?
And what is the point of a license anyway, if not to prove you are competent to operate your chosen vehicle?
The really ridiculous consequence of this arbitrary decision is that a biker who's commited dozens of traffic violations will be allowed to ride two-up as long as he's been committing those violations over at least a three-year period. But someone who's been riding for two years with a spotless record will have to wait. And of course, a beginning driver can toodle onto the expressway on day one of his hot-off-the-presses license, as long as he's in a car.
I'm not an anarchist. I think laws are essential to a free and prosperous society. But would it be too much to ask that they actually have a real purpose? And I don't think this is a cultural thing, either. From what I've heard, Japanese people themselves are tired of bureaucratic nonsense.