National

Japan enacts law to impose tougher penalties for road rage incidents

Kyodo

The Diet enacted a law Tuesday to impose harsher penalties for road rage incidents in the wake of several high-profile fatal accidents.

With the country's population rapidly graying, the revised road traffic law will also oblige elderly drivers age 75 or older with records of traffic offenses to pass a driving test when renewing their licenses.

The stricter road rage penalties are set to take effect around the end of this month, while the steps covering elderly drivers will be implemented by June 2022.

The revised law defines road rage as "obstructive driving," which includes aggressive tailgating, horn use and sudden braking meant to hamper driving of other vehicles.

Law-enforcement authorities will be able to immediately revoke drivers' licenses for a road rage offense and penalties will be up to three years in jail or a maximum ¥500,000 ($4,600) fine.

Currently, drivers' licenses can be revoked immediately in such cases as drunk driving or driving with a suspended license, among other offenses.

Driving that causes "extreme danger," including forcing another vehicle to stop on expressways and incidents judged to constitute near-collisions on local roads, will bring the penalty to up to five years in jail or a maximum ¥1 million fine.

In comparison, current penalties for aggressive tailgating on expressways are only up to three months in jail or a maximum ¥50,000 fine.

Road rage has drawn attention in Japan since a motorist forced a car to stop in the passing lane on an expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture in 2017. While it was stopped, the car was hit from behind by a truck, killing a man and woman and injuring their two daughters.

The motorist had become enraged after being warned by the driver of the victims' car about the way he had parked at an expressway parking area just before the incident.

As for the new regulations involving elderly drivers, those with records of offenses such as ignoring traffic lights and speeding will have their driving skills tested before renewing their licenses.

Those who pass the skills tests will also have their cognitive functions examined. Those who do not pass will not be able to renew their licenses, but they will be permitted to have multiple attempts at the test.

The revised law will also create a limited license for drivers on the condition they only operate cars equipped with advanced road safety features, such as a brake to prevent unintentional acceleration.

The limited license would provide new options for seniors currently considering the voluntary return of their drivers' licenses and for drivers of any age group who are not fully confident in their ability to operate a vehicle.

The number of fatal accidents caused by drivers age 75 or older stood at 401 last year, accounting for 14.4 percent of the total, slightly lower than a record high seen the previous year, according to police data.

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