Driving in Japan

I’ve ranted before about how damned confusing the road system here can be for a foreigner, but something more interesting than mundane Kanji signs is the strategies of driving over the speed limit (60 or 70 km/h) while still remaining immune from prosecution.

The speed traps don’t work anything like SA, in that in order to be fined, the Japanese authorities need a picture of your face at the wheel of the car. What’s more, stationary speed cameras are mounted on giant overhead steel girder-like constructs, preceded by at least 3 giant yellow signs warning of the impending speed trap. And it’s understandable. The penalties for speeding are harsh. Anything over 30 km/h will require a visit to court to have your fine determined by a judge, while anything 40km/h over the limit can lead to prison time. Scary indeed…

… Of course that’s in theory. In practice, everyone drives at least 20km/h over the limit, and the police don’t even bat an eyelid. I guess they’re busy harassing Russians (and are probably justified in doing so!) What this results in is a rather curious game of ‘follow-the-leader’ with the lead car on the highway forging the way ahead.

So basically it’s of the highest interest to be trailing behind the lead car, who is usually going a goodly speed, because, should a speed camera or even a police car in the bushes be trapping the road, it is only the lead car that will be prosecuted, as it’s kinda hard to snap pictures of the drivers behind him or her in quick succession. Great times! But it gets more complicated than that.

I find that often cars in the lead will slow down enough to make you overtake them, and they thus accelerate behind you in a cunning feint. I’ve since learned to do this myself, as it can lead to catapulting  ahead the draconian speed laws. Slow down enough to frustrate the tailing car to overtake you, and then accelerate behind them for a good ride at speed.

Of course the police know this as well, and apparently use undercover cars to do the same tactic to lure unsuspecting motorists into breaking the law. It seems a bit ruthless for the police to actively encourage motorists to break the speed limit just so they can catch them, but I guess it yields results!

What this likewise means is that often you find a long gaggle of cars tailing behind the lead on the suspicion that the rather nondescript leader might be a police car. Given that many motorists deck their cars out with 22 inch rims, dvd screens and giant aerial arrays on their rooves, whereas the police/govt cars are plain old skedonks, it takes a while for someone to overtake them. Of course, when the first car in line does so and isn’t arrested, a flood of overtaking ensues, with a new leader and a reset of the pieces on what can only be described at road chess.

And driving on the speed limit is, ironically, often more dangerous, as I have countless times encountered cars who woosh past me at almost twice my speed, resulting in reckless countermeasures from both myself and the moonbat who overtook me. In Japan, on either engages in this elegant dance of give and take, or risk being impaled by one of the many giant SUV’s roaming the Hokkaido road network.

Written by admin in: Things Japanese |

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