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Revised Road Traffic Law

Mbulelo: Hello, doctor. I have a question about traffic rules. Do you drive a car?

Doctor: Yes, I do. I sometimes drive my car for shopping and other errands.

Mbulelo: Well, my friend told me that he received a parking ticket the other day after parking his car on the side of the road for shopping. He says he left the car for no more than a mere 5 minutes. Has the rule always been tough this way?

Doctor: The regulations have been revised recently and became stricter about illegal parking. I do not park the car on the street anymore and rather make sure to find a right parking space.

Mbulelo: So how have the regulations been changed?

Doctor: While the Road Traffic Law is designed to ensure the safety of pedestrians and drivers, it has recently been revised to reflect drivers' worsening manners and the aggravation of types of traffic accidents. There are several major changes that you and your friend should know about.

[More strict control against short-time street parking]

Doctor: The criteria for illegal street parking today are tougher than before. You could receive a ticket if you park and leave the car in a no-parking zone even for a very short time. The amount of parking fines has also been raised. For repeat offenders, the law could control the use of their cars as well.

New street parking laws and fines (only available in Japanese)

[Requirement of wearing seatbelts for rear seat passengers]

Doctor: While the use of seatbelts has been mandatory for drivers as well as front passengers, the new law, effective as of June 2008, now requires rear seat passengers to wear seatbelts.

[Tightened penalties against driving under the influence of alcohol]

Doctor: Needless to say, you cannot drive when you drink, no matter how little you have consumed. Even if you are not really drunk, you could still be considered to be under the influence of alcohol if the result of your breath test shows a certain level of alcohol. The recent increase of accidents by drunk drivers has been a major issue in Japan.

< Penalties against drivers >
Doctor: Whether you end up causing an accident or not, drinking and driving is subject to tougher penalties, such as the revocation of driver's license, or the suspension of the license for a designated period of time. The amount of fines has also been increased.

< Penalties against passengers >
Doctor: If you know the driver has had alcoholic drinks and still let him drive for you, you will be violating the traffic laws. In fact, even if you don't drive with him, you will also be charged simply by allowing him to use your car. Serving alcoholic drinks to someone who you know will be driving is also against the law.

Doctor: If you drink the night before and there is a certain level of alcohol in your blood the next day, you will still be driving under the influence of alcohol. You should not drive just because you think you are sober. Alcohol stays in and affects your body much longer than you would imagine.

Mbulelo: So this means that even if we don't drive ourselves, we still need to make sure our drivers are free of alcohol.

Doctor: That's right. Passengers are also responsible for drunk driving.

"Let's Get Rid of Drinking and Driving" (information from the Metropolitan Police Department)

[Prohibition of use of cell phone while driving]

Doctor: You will be charged if you have a cell phone in your hand while driving and use it for talking or text-messaging.

[Revision for driver's license issued outside Japan]

Doctor: As of June 2002, the rules for the validity of an international driver's license as well as of a foreign driver's license have become stricter.
As for the international driver's license, which is valid only for a year, many long-term foreign residents in Japan were able to continue to drive in Japan simply by renewing their international license once a year when they temporarily go back to their home country. The revised law, however, now requires at least a three-month-long stay in the country of issue after the new international driver's license is issued. Otherwise, you will be considered to be driving with an invalid license.

Mbulelo: It sounds like the new law causes a lot of inconveniences for foreigners. Why did they have to change the rules?

Doctor: There has been an increase of drivers with the international driver's license in Japan who lost the license by violating the laws but easily obtained a new one by temporary going outside Japan. I heard that the revision of the law is intended to prevent such repeat offenders.

Mbulelo: What would be the best way for foreigners to obtain a driver's license in Japan?

Doctor: If you have a license issued in your home country, you can convert it to a Japanese one by taking a written exam and a driving test. The written exam is given in eight different languages and is supposed to be simple.

Transfer of foreign driver's license to a Japanese one(information in English)

Doctor: The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) can translate your foreign license into Japanese, which is necessary for the application to convert the license. The JAF also sells an official traffic rulebook for foreign residents in Japan, which is available in five languages.

JAF official website in English

Mbulelo: That sounds very helpful.

Doctor: Necessary documents and required exams may slightly be different by prefecture. Be sure to ask the designated menkyo center (driver's license center) of your address for more detail. The official website of the Metropolitan Police Department also provides useful information as well.

Mbulelo: Thank you for your good advice.

The Metropolitan Police Department
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