National / Crime & Legal

Japanese police crackdown on tailgating and other acts of road rage

JIJI

Police are toughening crackdowns on tailgating and other dangerous driving, reflecting heightened social interest in such reckless driving since the death of a married couple on the Tomei Expressway in June 2017 following an apparent road rage-induced chase.

The Tomei incident in Kanagawa Prefecture has stimulated demand for event data recorders, or dashboard cameras, from drivers wishing to keep records for use as evidence if they are involved in trouble related to tailgating.

Cautioning that even ordinary drivers may be tempted to tailgate, an expert on driving behavior called for people to recognize the “psychological mechanisms” of the driving practice.

The suspect in the incident on the Tomei Expressway chased the couple’s vehicle after an argument at an expressway parking area and blocked it in the fast lane, forcing the family to stop their vehicle. A truck then crashed into the family’s vehicle from behind, killing the couple and injuring their two daughters.

Four months after the incident, the Yokohama District Prosecutor’s Office indicted the male suspect, then 25 years old, on charges including dangerous driving causing death and injury. It was a rare application of the crime of dangerous driving against a driver who had stopped on an active lane.

The National Police Agency instructed police departments across the country in January to disqualify people from driving, regardless of accumulated points for traffic violations, if they commit tailgating offenses, resort to acts of intimidation or cause damage to property after such a chase.

The number of driver’s licenses suspended for tailgating totaled 30 in the first six months of 2018, up from 23 in the four years through 2017, according to preliminary data from the NPA.

As confirmation of tailgating offenses is difficult, police are stepping up collection of objective evidence such as visual records from dashboard cameras.

Yupiteru Corp., a Tokyo-based producer of dashcams, including 360-degree recorders, has received more inquiries from drivers since the fatal Tomei accident, company officials said.

Total shipments of dashcams stood at about 2.7 million units in fiscal 2017, marking an increase of about 1.2 million from the previous year, according to sources including the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association.

Noting that stress tends to increase while driving due to factors such as traveling speed differences and dangerous driving by others, Kazunori Shidoji, professor at Kyushu University Graduate School and Faculty of Information Science and Electrical Engineering and an expert on driving behavior, warned that even ordinary people may commit tailgating offenses because “being inside a car gives them a high degree of anonymity and makes them feel they can readily get away (with it).”

“It’s important to drive while having plenty of leeway, both psychologically and in terms of time,” Shidoji said.