Why Do Drivers in Japan Stop at Railroad Crossings?

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In Japan, it’s a common practice for drivers to stop at railroad crossings, even when there are no warning signals or descending barriers. This may seem puzzling to those unfamiliar with the practice, but there are valid reasons behind this unique rule.

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Legal Requirements

According to the Japanese Road Traffic Act, Article 33, vehicles must stop immediately before a railroad crossing (or before the stop line, if one is marked) and proceed only after confirming that it is safe to do so. The only exception is when a traffic signal indicates otherwise.

The purpose of this mandatory stop is to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers by allowing them to confirm that no trains are approaching.

International Comparisons

Japan and South Korea are the only countries that require drivers to stop at railroad crossings. In other countries, such as the United States, ordinary vehicles are allowed to proceed through crossings without stopping, although school buses and large trucks are required to stop.

Unique Characteristics of Japanese Railroad Crossings

There are several reasons why stopping at railroad crossings is crucial in Japan:

  1. Congestion-prone crossings: Many Japanese cities have developed around railway lines, resulting in a high concentration of railroad crossings in densely populated areas. This increases the risk of accidents caused by drivers becoming trapped on the tracks due to traffic congestion.
  2. Poor visibility: Japan’s limited land area and the prevalence of curved railway lines and nearby buildings often result in railroad crossings with poor visibility.
  3. Quieter trains: Japanese trains are designed to minimize noise pollution in densely populated areas. As a result, trains often approach crossings more quietly, making it harder for drivers to hear them coming.

The Importance of Safety Checks

Given these unique characteristics, it is essential for drivers in Japan to stop at railroad crossings and check for approaching trains, even if the warning systems appear to be functioning correctly. This precautionary measure helps prevent accidents caused by malfunctioning barriers or warning signals, as well as those resulting from poor visibility or quieter trains.

In contrast, many other countries have fewer railroad crossings, and their railway lines are less likely to pass through residential areas. Additionally, trains in these countries often sound their horns as they approach crossings, making it easier for drivers to be aware of their presence.

Conclusion

While stopping at railroad crossings may seem inconvenient or frustrating at times, it is a necessary safety measure in Japan due to the unique characteristics of the country’s railway system and urban development. By understanding the reasons behind this rule, drivers can appreciate its importance and maintain a calm and patient attitude when following this life-saving practice.

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