Japanese pedestrians are 20 times less likely to walk through a red light than their French counterparts, but are quicker to follow suit if someone else does first, according to a French study.

Setting out to illuminate the invisible social and cultural background of decisions made by pedestrians in risk-taking scenarios, the researchers analyzed 1,631 instances of road crossings in Nagoya and 3,814 in Strasbourg, France.

The results showed that 2.1 percent of the Japanese sample crossed against a red light, compared with 41.9 percent of their French counterparts, indicating a clear difference by country.

The data was gathered using video cameras over six days at each of four locations in Nagoya and three in Strasbourg, and excluded such groups as tourists, according to the study published Feb. 15  by The Royal Society.

The surveyors also combined the data and broke it down by sex, showing that men were more prone to break the rules at red lights than women, at 40.6% and 25.7%, respectively. Men also decided more quickly than their female counterparts, and set off from the curb faster.

“[W]omen take more time deciding to start crossing than men, meaning that men take more risks, or that women are more careful, or both,” the authors reasoned.

The study also analyzed collective behavior at red lights, and found that pedestrians in France crossed illegally after seeing someone else do it at twice the rate of those in Japan. However, Japanese were faster than their French counterparts to follow the lead.

The rate of illegal crossings fell significantly when pedestrians were waiting for a green light in the presence of other people. This, they noted, was especially true in Japan.

“The Japanese… are particularly aware of the opinion of conspecifics,” the study said. “Indeed, results show a greater decrease in the rate of rule-breaking when other people are present in Japan compared with France.”

The data also showed that irrespective of country, the more people waiting at a red light, the slower they were to cross before it turned green.

Other variables included number of lanes, wait time, and age, with the study showing that those in their 20s to 30s were more prone than other age groups to walk through a red.

The researchers expressed a hope that their study and further investigations into the factors at play in decisions to cross a red light will contribute to enhanced safety measures.

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