Japan can be a tricky place to drive in, and in fact sometimes even the people responsible for issuing and enforcing the rules of the road can sometimes get confused.
For example, let’s take a look at this intersection here in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture.
It’s a bit of a mess. For starters, you have a main city road and a prefectural highway intersecting at a very sharp angle. On top of that the highway becomes one-way on the south side of the intersection, and just to make things extra convoluted there’s a tiny conduit between the highway and the main road, creating an A shape, but that little strip of road is only one-way too.
So let’s say someone is driving towards the intersection from the angle seen below, and they want to turn right onto the highway. They can’t use the small conduit because it’s one-way in the opposite direction, so is it possible to make the very sharp right turn at the main intersection?
Earlier this year, one officer with the Aichi Prefectural Police said “no” and applied for a sign to be installed prohibiting right turns. In August of this year an official sign indicating that traffic could only go left or straight was hung, and for good measure another larger and less formal sign was set up underneath notifying drivers that right turns were not allowed in large print, really driving the point home.
▼ A news report showing the sign
Since then, a total of 168 tickets were handed out to motorists who dared to turn right anyway. It wasn’t until November that another officer with the Traffic Control Division noticed the signs and that they were a mistake.
The general rule is that at intersections between city streets and highways, cars should be allowed to access the highway from a right turn. The particular orientation of this intersection apparently was not a factor, and as a result, the signs were immediately removed.
As for the 168 people who received tickets, the Aichi Prefectural Police officially apologized and promised to both cancel the demerit points and refund all fines, totaling 1.14 million yen.
However, this creates a kind of ethically nebulous situation in which readers of the news were largely divided about who to point the finger at.
“It never occurred to me that some traffic signs might be wrong.”
“So technically didn’t the police violate a traffic rule? We should give them a ticket.”
“What about the people who suffered more from the tickets, like those who got their licenses revoked? How are they compensated?”
“Even if the rule was mistaken, the drivers still knowingly disobeyed the sign though.”
“I wonder if the police officers handing out tickets took a moment to consider if the sign was correct.”
“Those demerit points affect people’s insurance. Does that all go away too?”
“I would be furious if I got a ticket for that.”
“But they did ignore a sign telling them not to turn right.”
Whether this is more a matter of reckless driving or police negligence probably boils down to each individual case, so it would seem the Aichi Police are choosing to settle everything in one fell swoop regardless of the circumstances.
Nevertheless, anyone who’s ever gotten a ticket would agree the last thing you’d expect is to get a full refund and apology for it.
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