National / Crime & Legal

Rare Japan road-rage manhunt prompts national debate over dangerous driving

by Hinano Kobayashi

Contributing Writer

A nationwide manhunt ended Sunday when a motorist wanted for road rage and assaulting a driver was seized in Osaka.

Fumio Miyazaki, 43, is suspected of swerving in front of the victim’s car, forcing it to stop, then punching the man in the head through an open window.

The incident took place on the Joban Expressway in Ibaraki Prefecture on Aug. 10. Video from a dashboard camera showing the assault has since been shown on TV.

Separately, eyewitnesses reported two other incidents involving Miyazaki: one on a national road in the city of Shizuoka and another on an expressway in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, both on July 23. Miyazaki was allegedly driving a rental vehicle that another individual returned, damaged, to the hire company about 20 days later.

Road rage knows no national boundaries. In Japan the term aoriunten is used to describe intentional tailgating and blaring the horn while driving to intimidate or harass other drivers.

The Miyazaki case drew attention because it is unusual for police to launch a nationwide manhunt. It has prompted much discussion about dangerous driving and the punishments available.

Road rage is considered “malicious and dangerous,” according to the National Police Agency. However, no single law defines where the line is crossed.

On Thursday, the National Public Safety Commission said it had “tightened” its approach toward dangerous driving since January 2018. It handled about 13,000 incidents in that year, an increase of more than 80 percent on a year earlier, the body said.

In the period from January to June this year, 6,800 cases were recorded, and 42 people were stripped of their driving licenses.

The body’s advice to motorists is to install a dashboard camera.

The Miyazaki case was reminiscent of that of Kazuho Ishibashi, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for a 2017 highway road-rage incident that left two people dead. Ishibashi swerved in front of the victims’ car four times, forcing it to stop. The final time, a truck rammed the car from behind, killing the couple and injuring their two teenage daughters.

Article 26 of the Road Traffic Act requires drivers to maintain enough distance between vehicles to avoid collision. However, violations incur only a three-month imprisonment or a ¥50,000 fine.

If a motorist causes injury or death, offenders can be sentenced to 15-20 years in prison.

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