Police want to crack down on traffic incidents caused by visitors on go-karts.

During the pandemic, Japan closed its borders to international travel, which meant go-kart operators in Tokyo, who usually lead fleets of foreign visitors down public roads, found themselves without customers, leading one to start up a “Save the Street Kart” campaign to stay in business.

Now that the country has reopened its borders, tourists from abroad have returned in large numbers and the go-karts are back on the roads, but not everyone is happy about it. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the complaints made against go-karts on public roads in 2022 were close to none, but in 2023, the number of complaints soared to over 100. Many of the grievances were related to noise and traffic violations, with statements including: “people get out of their carts and take photos while waiting at traffic lights” and “they ignore traffic lights”.

Although no injuries were reported, there were 12 accidents involving rear-end collisions and 10 other violations, including parking fines. In February, the police department handed out written requests to go-kart operators asking them to strengthen safety measures.

In order to prevent accidents and reduce noise, the Organization for Safe Driving Support for Foreign Visitors to Japan, an industry group that includes go-kart operators, has set up driving routes that are away from residential areas and places frequented by children. To prevent the negative impact of photography on the flow of traffic, companies have established rules such as prohibiting the use of mobile phones while driving.

However, while those who wish to drive the go-karts are required to hold an international driver’s license, most are foreign tourists from Europe and America, who are not only unfamiliar with Japanese roads and traffic signs, but are used to driving on the other side of the road.

This can lead to a host of problems for both go-kart drivers and the vehicles and people around them, as evidenced by two incidents that occurred in 2018, when one driver was involved in a hit-and-run collision in Akihabara and another mounted the pavement and crashed into a shop wall.

According to the industry organisation, more people are getting involved in the go-kart business, and since the coronavirus  pandemic the number of businesses that are no longer affiliated with the organisation has increased. As a result, it has become difficult to maintain rules and regulations across the board, and they would like to provide information to non-member businesses and raise the standards of the industry as a whole.

With more than a dozen go-kart businesses in Tokyo, and the market size estimated to be worth 2-3 billion yen (US$13.2-19.8 million), the noisy lightweight vehicles won’t be disappearing from roads anytime soon. However, as the recent prohibitions in Kyoto show, when incidents involving tourists increase, so too do the bans, so increasing safety measures is in the best interests of everyone.

Source: Jiji Press via Jin
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