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Half of bus drivers greet each other via hand wave, defying rules

Nearly half of bus drivers in Japan still exchange greetings waving or nodding when their vehicles pass each other, despite rules banning such gestures to prevent accidents, according to a data analysis group.

An investigation conducted by the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis in nine prefectures across the country found that out of a total of 612 drivers, 292 individuals, or 47.7 percent, raised a hand or gave a quick nod to their fellow drivers.

It was conducted from August 2022 through February this year in the wake of a fatal bus accident in August 2021 in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture in southwestern Japan.

File photo taken on March 27, 2023, shows local buses operated by Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co. in the city of Fukuoka. (Kyodo)

The bus driver involved in the case told an inquiry that he nodded at the driver of another bus and briefly looked at it for “a few seconds.”

Having one hand off the steering wheel does not necessarily violate Japan’s traffic law, which obliges drivers to operate the wheel, brakes and other vehicle equipment in a “secure” manner, a police official said.

The practice of bus drivers greeting each other while driving was banned by the Tokyo Bus Association in 2003 following a fatal accident of a pedestrian. The Nihon Bus Association has also advised its member operators to discourage it since 2012.

Even Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., the parent company of the Kitakyushu-based bus operator that figured in the 2021 accident, said it has been distributing a drivers’ manual for “at least more than 15 years,” which states that drivers must not wave or bow.

Kazuhiro Sakai, a researcher at the Ohara Memorial Institute for Science of Labor, who oversaw the investigation, warned that “inattentive driving for even a few seconds can prove deadly.”

He added that for instance, a bus at a speed of 40 kilometers per hour could advance even 11 meters per second, if one is not careful in driving.

Junichi Sugiyama, a freelance writer specializing in transportation, emphasized the importance of providing thorough instruction not only from bus operators but also from authorities.

“If education alone is insufficient, it is necessary to install cutting-edge equipment,” such as sensors that can detect objects in the vehicle’s path, to prevent traffic accidents caused by human errors, Sugiyama said.

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