The Tokyo High Court on Friday sent a high-profile 2017 road rage case back to a lower court due to an illegal procedure during the original trial.
The high court upheld the ruling of the Yokohama District Court that Kazuho Ishibashi, 27, caused a crash resulting in the death of a couple and injuries to their daughters, but ordered the case to be reheard by the lower court over the issue.
The district court convicted Ishibashi of dangerous driving after he overtook the car of Yoshihisa Hagiyama, 45, and his family on the Tomei Expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture on June 5, 2017, and forced it to stop in the passing lane.
While stopped, the car was struck from behind by a truck.
The lower court ruling in December last year said Ishibashi became enraged after being warned by Hagiyama about the way he parked his car at an expressway parking area just before the incident. Ishibashi pursued Hagiyama, who was traveling with his wife, Yuka, 39, and their two daughters.
Presiding high court Judge Yoshifumi Asayama said the district court illegally overturned a view expressed at a pretrial hearing that Ishibashi’s act did not constitute dangerous driving under the law. He criticized the court’s actions that led to the ruling being nullified.
“The accused and his defense were caught off guard. It was an illegal procedure that affected the ruling,” Asayama said.
The mother of Hagiyama told a news conference that she is “unconvinced” by the high court’s decision.
After being covered widely in the media, the case sparked public concern about dangerous driving in Japan, leading to a police crackdown and calls for traffic laws to be revised.
Also Friday, the National Police Agency unveiled planned changes to the nation’s traffic laws that define road rage and impose harsher penalties for dangerous driving.
The NPA told a traffic safety panel of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that the new regulations would allow police to immediately revoke a driver’s license after one confirmed road rage offense to quickly get volatile and dangerous people off the road.
Drivers who lose their license after a road rage incident will be banned from getting behind the wheel for more than a year, while the NPA is considering the possibility of prison terms of up to three years or a fine of up to ¥300,000.
At present, licenses are revoked immediately only in cases such as drunk driving or driving with a suspended license, among other offenses.
In comparison, up to three months in jail or a maximum ¥50,000 fine can be handed down for aggressive tailgating on expressways.
The NPA plans to work out details of a bill to revise the traffic laws through discussions with the LDP panel so that it can be submitted to the Diet early next year.
According to the NPA proposals presented to the LDP and sources familiar with the matter, road rage will be defined as dangerous driving with the intent of obstructing others, such as tailgating, sudden braking or repeated swerving between lanes.
Forcing another vehicle to stop on an expressway will also be included.
To avoid punishing drivers who have unintentionally driven in a dangerous manner in what appears to be a road rage-like incident, cases will only be categorized as road rage when there is repeated intentional aggressive behavior.
Evidence such as dashcam or security camera footage and testimonies from passengers will be required to establish a case.
In a related move, the Justice Ministry is planning to submit a bill to the Diet early next year that will outline penalties for drivers who cut off another vehicle to force it to stop.