Rules and Regulations
Any traffic offenses, including parking tickets, will result in points being added to your license. You may not be informed of this at the time of the offense, so be warned; six points will result in a one-month license suspension, and, for example, speeding 30km over the limit may earn you 7 points and immediate suspension. On the plus side, these suspensions can sometimes be shortened to as little as one day by taking a test (in English). Don’t rely on this, though!
JAF has a plethora of useful maps, as well as a guide for foreigners driving in Japan written in English. This guide will help you to learn the rules of the road, and will also give you information like what to do if you get wheel clamped, or how to drive safely in snowy conditions. Check it out on their site.
WHAT IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN AN ACCIDENT?
If you are involved in an accident, you won’t be able to talk yourself out of it. This is the one time we ask you to NOT say “Sumimasen” to the driver you got in an accident with – this would be admitting blame and can be used against you later.
The police will come, interview the Japanese person first, and then start to grill you about what happened. They’ll investigate the scene and then assign who is to blame. If you can speak Japanese you might be all right if you didn’t do anything wrong. But if it’s questionable who is to blame, then don’t sign anything until you understand exactly what is going on. Get someone from your BOE or school to help you out.
ALWAYS have your insurance papers and your driver’s license (either Japanese or from your home country; if it’s the latter, make sure to have your international driver’s license as well) with you at ALL times when driving a vehicle! This will be ESSENTIAL if you are to get into an accident, or even just pulled over by a policeman.
WHAT IF YOU BREAKDOWN?
Be prepared; join the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation). The JAF is Japan’s version of the automobile association (AAA, AA, CAA,etc.) They provide the same type of services. If you run out of gas, get a flat tire, or your car breaks down, they will come help you. Usually it’s free unless there are some extraordinary circumstances. Also, if you have a JAF membership, it covers you no matter what car you are riding in. So if you are in a friend’s car and you have a problem, you can still use your JAF card to get free help. The one time I had to use JAF, I was very pleased with it. My battery died because I left my lights on. They arrived in about 10 minutes and were very nice and professional. It costs 6000 yen for your 1st year’s membership and 4000 yen per year after that.
Here is a page that outlines the costs of members and non-members and various ways JAF can help you: http://www.jaf.or.jp/e/road_s_info.htm
RULES ABOUT DRIVING IN JAPAN
1. Driving without a driver’s license is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding 300,000 yen.
2. Drinking and driving will result in imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding 1,000,000 yen. No one is allowed to drink, even a little bit, and drive. Japan has a NO TOLERANCE policy on alcohol.
3. If you are a passenger in the car of a driver who had been drinking, you are also held accountable and may be imprisoned.
(Be aware that if you are caught driving without a license, driving after drinking – even a drop! – or driving with someone who has been drinking, you will most likely get deported and may even have a restriction on when you can return again to Japan. Bottom line is, it’s just not worth it.)
PENALTIES FOR TRAFFIC OFFENSES
In December 2006 strict new penalties were introduced for government workers (JETs!) who commit traffic offenses. Read the Traffic Offenses document and make sure you’re aware of the consequences of driving dangerously in Japan.