Although noxiously confusing, Japan’s roads are mostly safe. A license point systems ensures careful driving, and the number of accidents and traffic fatalities is experiencing a downwards trend.
Yet, road rage incidents are paradoxically increasing in a society that espouses the virtues of harmony and order. Eye-popping headlines have forced the issue front and center. As such, authorities are cracking down on aggressive driving as concern surrounding safe streets continues to spread.
Driver Threatens Another with A sickle
In late June, a Fukuoka senior was arrested for allegedly threatening another driver with a sickle. While the case is ongoing, the 70-year-old Fukuoka native is suspected of confronting a 23-year-old nurse at a red light. With sickle in hand, he allegedly opened the nurse's door while she was stopped asking, "Why did you cut me off?"
Police responded quickly and found the suspect, who is disputing the allegation, nearby. According to police, the senior is saying he "didn't brandish the sickle." However, the claim contradicts witness accounts that he became upset with the nurse after she cut in front of him. He is suspected to have repeatedly flashed his lights and cut in front of her. While both were stopped, he took out the sickle from his car.
Either way, the timing of the incident is particularly precarious for the senior motorist. The event may violate the newly amended Road Traffic Act. The amendments, which came into effect on June 30th, impose more significant penalties for acts of aggressive driving and road rage.
Extreme Road Rage Incidences
The Fukuoka senior is not alone. In recent years, several outlandish road rage acts have made headlines as authorities seek greater leverage in punishing the crime.
On June 8, 2019, a truck struck an SUV driven by a 43-year-old company executive. Police initially charged the truck driver with negligent driving over the incident.
However, as they looked more deeply, police began to suspect the SUV driver over his history of road-rage arrests. After analyzing the truck driver's dashboard footage, they concluded that the SUV driver had harassed the truck driver for several kilometers. Police reassessed the incident and charged the SUV driver with dangerous driving and obstruction of business.
In another incident, an upset driver threatened another, aggressively tailgating the victim and firing an airgun at his car. The suspect, who apparently stole the vehicle he was driving, also blasted his horn and drove dangerously close to the victim. Upon running out of gas, the suspect abandoned his car along the side of the interstate.
A 2018 incident was even more tragic. A judge found a 26-year-old defendant guilty of dangerous driving causing death or injury after a mother and father were killed while stopped along a freeway. The younger truck driver struck the family van after attempting to stop them via dangerous maneuvers. A passing truck struck the mother and father outside the van and injured their two children who waited in the stopped vehicle.
The presiding judge said, “The defendant’s action was dangerous and its consequence grave. The sorrow of victims who suddenly lost their lives on their way home from a family trip and that of the bereaved family is deep. It’s understandable that the [surviving family] called for harsh punishment.” The defendant was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Police Crack Down
In reaction to recent headline events, the National Police Agency (NPA) is seeking to crack down on aggressive driving such as tailgating. The NPA has recently expanded the Road Traffic Act by banning obstructive driving. Prior legislation had not accounted for malicious behavior on the road; however, recent changes aim to fix this loophole. The changes apply punishments, such as revoking licenses to drivers behaving dangerously, even in the absence of an accident. In extreme cases, prison terms are recommended.
Prior to the amendments, a driver's license could be revoked for drunk driving or driving with a suspended license. However, currently, officers can immediately revoke a license for a year or more for road rage offenses. Jail time and fines of up to 500,000 yen may also apply. Even relatively minor obstructions such as aggressive tailgating can face minimal jail time and fines.
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