National

Tougher penalties for smartphone use while driving take effect in Japan

Kyodo

Stronger penalties for using mobile phones behind the wheel took effect Sunday in the wake of an outcry from families who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents caused by such drivers.

Under the revised law, drivers distracted by mobile phones face higher fines, a threefold increase in penalty points and longer imprisonment.

In 2018, there were 2,790 accidents linked to drivers distracted by smartphones, of which 42 were fatal, an increase of about 2.3 times in 10 years.

Under stricter regulations, penalty points for drivers caught speaking on or using their mobile phones have been increased from one point to three points, while in instances where others were endangered, six points instead of two will be imposed.

Fines have been raised to ¥25,000 ($227) from ¥7,000 for cases involving large cars, to ¥18,000 from ¥6,000 for standard-size cars, to ¥15,000 from ¥6,000 for motorbikes and to ¥12,000 from ¥5,000 for motorcycles with 50 cc engines or less. Repeat offenders could face prison sentences of up to six months or fines of up to ¥100,000.

Unlike in the past, those whose smartphone use endangered others can immediately be held criminally liable. If charged, they will face a harsher penalty of either a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine of up to ¥300,000, compared with a sentence of up to three months or a fine of up to ¥50,000 before.

Traffic accidents involving the use of mobile phones continued to occur despite tougher regulations introduced in 2004 to make speaking on the phone while driving an offense under the revised road traffic act.

In 2016 an elementary school student was fatally struck by a truck on his way home from school in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture. The truck driver admitted that he was playing Pokemon Go on his smartphone at the time. In the same year, a Vietnamese woman in her 20s was also fatally hit by a car in Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, that was driven by a man who said he was trying to charge his smartphone because the battery had run low due to playing games.

In 2018 a male driver who was reading manga on his smartphone while driving caused a fatal accident in Niigata Prefecture.