What to do if You're in a Car Accident in Japan - Part 3

Editor's note: This is part 3 and the final post in the "What to do if You're in a Car Accident" series, written by David Thompson. If you haven't yet, be sure to read part 1 and part 2. This series is a must-read for anyone driving in Japan. -Ashley

I wish I could tell you that the beginner driver’s course was a great experience. However, as you all can probably imagine, it wasn’t. The morning consisted of a written driver’s aptitude test, group discussion, and driving practice on the school’s course. It was during the group discussion time that I was able to ask a lot of questions which I will share with you all shortly.

After a lunch break, we went out into onto the actual streets for driving practice, used a really expensive driving simulator to simulate braking in bad conditions, and then spent the rest of the time talking. While this might not sound that bad, the eight-hour course only had about five hours of actual content and we spent the other three hours talking, which is not something I wanted to be doing when I had an upset baby and exhausted wife waiting for me at home. It’s important to note that since the detailed contents of the course are determined by each driving school, this can differ depending on where you go.

The driving simulator:

Well, enough of that, let’s get to the interesting stuff I learned during the morning discussion.

Words to know:
交通違反こうつういはんkoutsuu ihantraffic violation
点数制度てんすうせいどtensuu seidopoint system
基礎点数きそてんすうkisotensuubase points
付加点数ふかてんすうfukatensuuadditional points
免許停止めんきょていしmenkyo teishisuspended license (免停 for short)
免許取消しめんきょとりけしmenkyo torikeshilicense revocation

For Beginner Drivers 
Japan has a strict traffic violation system, especially for beginner drivers. For the majority of you that got to skip this beginner year when you got your license, congratulations! The rest of you (including myself), beware!

Take a look at this diagram:

As a beginner driver, if you don’t get into any accidents or have any traffic violations that add up to three points (will talk about the point system in "For All Drivers" below) in your first year of driving, you move on with no problems (blue line in diagram). However, even the slightest accident or violation, which you might have gotten away with only a ticket or a slap on the wrist if you weren’t a beginner, will somehow end up being three points or more and will force you to take the beginner driver’s course I had to take (first yellow box on the left).

If you take the course (second yellow box from the left) and don’t cause any more problems in the remainder of your first year, you are good to go (yellow line).

On the other hand, if you somehow fail to take the course or get any sort of traffic violation before your beginner year ends (first red box from the left and red box after "Take Beginner's Course" in yellow), then you have to take the full 100 question written test (that almost all of us didn’t have to take if you had your driver’s license from your home country translated). If you pass, congratulations, but don’t cause any more problems in your first year. If you fail the test, which is most likely since the passing rate for beginner drivers in this case is only 5%, your license gets revoked.

For All Drivers 
Japan’s traffic violations (交通違反) have a point based system (点数制度). Whatever infraction points you get for any accident or violation will add up over a three-year period and as you reach certain point totals there are penalties. Not to mention that certain violations also come with fines and/or jail time.

Here’s a diagram of the point totals and their corresponding penalties (definitions for terms in kanji are above).

How many points do you get for what kind of violation? Here’s a picture of part of the list (not all violations are translated below):

You can also find the list online at the following links (Japanese only, but you can use Rikaikun for Chrome or Rikaichan for Firefox to translate terms, or copy/paste to an online/computer dictionary, or use Google Translate):

Traffic Violation Points pg. 1
Traffic Violation Points pg. 2  

The website above also lists the jail time for certain violations. I tried to find the list in English but wasn’t able to so if anyone knows where to find one, please let us know.

As you can see from the list, driving with any sort of blood alcohol level will basically get your license revoked. The list in the links is slightly different from the one displayed above, as they say, "酒気帯び
点数" and have two numbers separated by a slash (e.g. 14/25). The number on the left indicates if blood alcohol level is below .25 and the number on the right is if your blood alcohol level is above. Points are also `added on if you injured someone in an accident.

What happens if your license is revoked? During your probation period (minimum of a year) you will be required to take a course for people who have had their license revoked. However, in order to take the course you must acquire a temporary license (good for only six months), so you also have to take that test and pass. After that you will have to go through the process of getting your license which can be split into two different options.

Option A: More expensive but quicker.
After completing the course previously mentioned, you can enroll in a driving school during your probation period. After graduating from the school and once your probation period ends, head to the licensing center and take the written test. If you pass you will get your license.

Option B: Takes longer but cheaper
After completing the course, instead of enrolling in a driving school, you can choose to practice driving (on actual streets) instead. This method will require you to obtain a minimum of 10 certified practice hours, which means you will need someone in the car with you to sign off on your hours and these must be completed no earlier than three months before you go to get your license again. After your probation period is over you can head to the licensing center and take the written and practical tests. If you pass, you will be required to take a short class when you get your license and then also take a high speed driving course before you can get your license.

Things to avoid:
  • Drinking and driving (like I mentioned above)
  • Telling a police officer you were tired while driving (automatic 25 points, which gets your license revoked with a 2 year probation)
Other random pieces of information:
  • Not stopping long enough at a railroad crossing is a two point infraction and a 9,000 yen fine (for a 普通 car)
  • Driving more than 3km in the right line when you’re not passing someone can get you pulled over
  • Driving while using your cell phone is a one point infraction and 6,000 yen fine, but if the cell phone causes you to drive dangerously or cause an accident, it is 2 points and a 9,000 yen fine.
All fines must be paid within eight days. Failure to pay the fine on time will require you to appear at the Notification Office in person and you will then be given 11 days to pay. Failure to pay means you will be required to appear in court.

So there you have it. The bottom line is, of course, try not to get in a car accident or get a traffic infraction in Japan, but if it is does happen, hopefully now you have a better idea of what that will entail.


David Thompson is currently in his fifth and final year on the JET Program, teaching English at a technical high school. When he's not busy trying to convince teenage boys to pay attention in class, he helps coach baseball at the school (officially), helps Ashley with research and checking Japanese for accuracy, and takes care of baby Ai-chan. He's currently looking for a full-time job in Japan starting in August/September, particularly if it involves working with youth and/or non-profit organizations. You can check out his credentials on LinkedIn.

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