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Japan ministry to help foreign drivers avoid accidents

TOKYO >> Japan’s Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry will address a surging number of accidents involving rental cars driven by foreign tourists, whose number is on the rise in Japan, by identifying locations where accidents are likely to occur and setting up foreigner-friendly road signs in the hope of preventing accidents.

The ministry will choose five or so regions including Okinawa Prefecture, Hokkaido and the Kyushu region — where many foreigners rent cars — to conduct tests as early as autumn by collecting information from national highways and expressways such as records of when vehicles suddenly brake. The ministry will implement the measures nationwide if test results are confirmed to be effective.

The tests will utilize ETC 2.0, a next-generation automatic toll payment system that can transmit information on vehicles’ location and travel data. Travel routes, records of when vehicles suddenly brake while driving and other information will be sent from the ETC 2.0 system installed in rental cars that are driven by foreigners, with their consent. The ministry will ask car rental companies to offer data recorded on dashboard cameras to identify locations where foreigners are likely to have accidents.

The ministry will take intensive safety measures at locations it deems dangerous, such as by adding illustrations to road signs for foreigners who cannot read Japanese or putting explanations in multiple languages on warning signs, such as “Under construction” and “Lane closed.” Pamphlets that show the location of dangerous spots will be handed out by rental car companies.

According to the transport ministry, about 700,000 foreign visitors rented cars in 2015 across Japan, quadrupling over the five years from 2011.

The number of deaths and injuries due to traffic accidents has also been on the rise. In Okinawa Prefecture, which has a high number of rental car users, almost 10,000 traffic accidents caused by foreigners and including property damage were reported in 2016.

The government aims to have 40 million foreign visitors to Japan in 2020 when the Olympics and Paralympics are held in Tokyo. The government will set up road signs in Japanese and English and launch an expressway numbering system that uses letters in the English alphabet and numbers to support foreign drivers.

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