Against the Grain

Slightly more than just jibba jabba

Try Driving in Japan

Posted by Patrick on 23 Jul 2007

Americans in general are such awful, inattentive, road raging drivers that I’d like to see the average person attempt to drive in Japan.  And for many reasons; I’ll try to explain.

The first obstacle to overcome is that Japanese traffic is on the opposite side of the road, and the driver sits on the right front. It’s like the UK – well pretty much like anywhere except the US and Korea.

Second obstacle for Americans is that the highest speed limit in the entire country is 100km/h — that’s about 63mph, and that’s on the multi-lane expressway.  In town, the speed limits are between 40 and 60km/h, and most of the time around 50, which is a measly 31mph. 

Third obstacle to overcome for Americans: it is expressly illegal to drive your car and use your cell phone at the same time.  I think that does the trick for every woman and lots of men reading this post.  Police can and will stop you and cite you for this very reason; it is not a secondary offense at all.

Fourth obstacle to overcome is the pure volume of traffic.  Tokyo is a city of 35 million strong.  Do the math.  But what’s amazing about Tokyo traffic is that it flows much more nicely than any major American city despite its size.  I cite superior city management and superior traffic engineering as reasons for that.

Fifth obstacle to overcome is noise pollution.  You will be ticketed if you try to ride down the highway with your 15’s bumping, or if you try to cruise the ‘hood with your windows down and system up.  That should rule out all the thugs, wiggers, wannabes and all other hood rats that think bump is cool, because it *was back in 1990, but holy hell it’s played out.

Now, suppose you’re an upstanding citizen and overall responsible driver and you manage to overcome those things.  Let’s talk about traffic law and accident law briefly.

First, understand that it is not America.  You do not have the bill of rights, but some of the same rights do apply.  One important thing to note is what it takes (as a citizen) to get a driver’s license in Japan.  Drivers Education is compulsory, as in it is required, and because of that the 6-month set of classes run about $2000.  Less than half pass on the first attempt.  Licensing is broken down similarly to the US, except that manual and automatic transmissions are licensed separately (and yes, they are separate driver’s ed classes).  Your drivers license has a colored bar on it that shows the expiration date.  The color of the bar is significant – it denotes how long you’ve been licensed without a ticket or accident.  If you get the gold bar – that’d be the highest rank, so to speak – people are pleased with you.

For the first year that you are licensed, you’re required to place a mark on the rear of your car indicating such.  It’s a standardized yellow and green chevron mark that just screams “new driver”.  We need that in the US, for real.

So, on to actual driving.  Police don’t normally set speed traps, though they do use motorbike cops on the highways sometimes.  No, in most places, they use video and camera surveillance to nab speeders.  You do NOT want to be caught by one of these.  They mail you a printout of yourself driving your car complete with date, time, location, speed limit and speed, and the date that you are to appear in court to face charges.  Here’s the kicker.  If you are fined for speeding, expect to pay no less than $500 in fines plus a little more cabbage for the film, postage, court costs, and everything else that had to be bought to prove your guilt.  In more severe speeding cases, the fines are in the several thousand dollar range — yes, thousands.  And, if you lose your license, guess what.  Drivers education classes are required to get it back, and those are still expensive.

Now, let’s have an accident, though this is the one thing you absolutely do not want to do in Japan.  Japan uses a system of relative negligence when handing out guilt in accidents.  This means, if you are involved in an accident, you are always going to share a part of the fault/guilt for it.  I believe the only exception to this is if you are outside your car and it is properly parked at the time of the accident.  If you are sitting inside your car, parked, not started, and someone backs into you, that’s about a 5% fault rating.  On average, an accident is somewhere between 80/20 and 50/50 when both people are driving.  What this means is that you try your damndest to *avoid an accident – whereas in America people are so fraudulent that they’ll allow an accident to happen when it’s not their fault and try to collect some insurance money.  Vulturous punks.

Suppose you run off the road and hit a telephone pole.  Guess what, you’re buying a new one.  Hit a phone booth, same.  Run over a fire hydrant, woe be unto you but you’re paying for that plus the cost of the water and the labor spent to cap it off.  No, the Japanese do not play when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Now, for the worst-case.  If you run over someone or otherwise kill someone in an accident, basically your life is indebted to the family of the deceased.  It’s going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in penance to the family; just forget about ever having a life again.  The rule of thumb there is that you will regularly show up at the family’s residence and pay penance (and yes I mean *pay) until the family believes you have earned their forgiveness.  It is literally tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars later in many cases.

So, buckle up! Ready to tackle Tokyo by car?


9 Responses to “Try Driving in Japan”

  1. ruhi said

    Tokyo by train sounds like a better idea to me, seriously. I am totally spoiled by the US driving laws. I love my DMV so much after reading this post. 😛

  2. Patrick said

    the train is ok if you like to have your squishies extra smashed during the ride. At least it’s always on time.

  3. BOJ said

    Maybe I am wrong but I think a speeding ticket is more along the lines of $100-200 unless it is really bad…and are you sure drivers ed is compulsory? I have a lot of Japanese friends that do not have a drivers license bc they didn’t wanna pay the money…maybe they meant just to take the test tho….

  4. Patrick said

    Well, unless my Japanese wife is completely wrong and we both took the classes when we lived there for fun, drivers ed is required.

    My brother in law got a pretty severe speeding ticket in Nikko for going 115 in a 80 (km/h). It cost him about $3000 plus he lost his license for a year. In order to get it back, he has to retake drivers ed.

    In 2001 a coworker of mine got a ticket on Okinawa for going 71 in a 50 and that was $700.

    If there’s such a thing as a cheap traffic citation, I have never seen one.

  5. ruhi said

    $3,000?! WOW. that’s HUGE.

  6. Seth said

    Hey Patrick, don’t forget, busses have the absolute right of way in every incident and if you make eye contact with another driver you have just agreed to yield to them.

    As for the relative negligence, remember when Ski was stopped in traffic at a red light and was rear-ended by a Japanese driver? If I remember correctly, he was assessed with 20% of the fault for failing to get out of the way. Initially his fault assessment was higher until he fought it in court.

    I think the thing that saved him was having a Japanese wife.

  7. Patrick said

    yeah dude I have totally forgotten that little bit, but it is oh so true. I do remember that accident — it’s stuck out in my mind ever since. I also remember Carney stopping his truck in the middle of the road and backing up right into a lady like a dipwad because he wanted to turn around

  8. Seth said

    I forgot about that bro. I remember you and I sitting in the back seat saying, “Yo, Carney, you might want to stop. Dude, you need stop, there’s someone behind you. You’re going to…” CRUNCH! That was classic. The sad thing is that if he did it here he could probably sue her for rear-ending him.

  9. Anonymous said

    free car quote

    Excellent post. Keep it up!

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