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Japan police seek to revoke licenses of tailgaters, other malicious drivers in legal change

An air gun is seen being pointed from the window on the driver's side of a car toward the camera in this image taken from video captured from the victim's car and supplied by the victims, on an expressway in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, in September 2019.

TOKYO -- The National Police Agency (NPA) is seeking legal changes to immediately revoke the driver's licenses of those who dangerously obstruct other vehicles on purpose, such as by tailgating them, agency officials said.

The NPA intends to add to the Road Traffic Act a clause specifically banning such dangerously obstructive driving. The NPA is seeking amendments to the legislation at next year's regular Diet session in an effort to eliminate malicious driving.

Agency officials explained the plan at a meeting of a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) panel on traffic safety measures on Dec. 6.

The NPA has been considering the measure in response to calls from within the executive branch of the government and the ruling coalition.

"There are limits to cracking down on malicious obstructive driving under the current legislation, which doesn't assume such driving will occur," said one official.

The proposed legal change would apply to drivers who commit certain traffic violations on purpose to obstruct other vehicles and pose a danger to traffic, even if such acts do not lead to accidents. Such violations would likely include tailgating and suddenly changing lanes.

The agency intends to determine the extent of punishments for dangerously obstructive driving by balancing them against punishments for those convicted of assault under the Penal Code, which stand at imprisonment for not more than two years or up to 300,000 yen in fines.

Those who pose an extreme danger to traffic, such as by forcing other vehicles to stop on expressways or other roads, would be subject to heavier punishments.

As to administrative punishments for such malicious driving, the NPA plans to set the penalty at 15 points or more, for which violators would immediately have their driver's licenses revoked. Moreover, the agency is considering banning drivers who are stripped of their licenses for dangerously obstructive driving from obtaining licenses again for at least one year.

To date, police forces across Japan have cracked down on drivers involved in such obstructive driving by applying a Road Traffic Act clause requiring vehicles to maintain a certain distance from the vehicle in front of them, as well as a Penal Code clause on violence and other legislation

In 2018, police departments across the country toughened their crackdown on dangerous driving that obstructs other vehicles, in response to the public's growing concern over such offenses. Police sought prosecution for or issued traffic violation tickets to drivers for failing to keep a sufficient distance from cars ahead in 13,025 cases in that year, roughly 1.8 times the figure recorded a year earlier. Police also applied a law punishing dangerous driving causing death or injury in 25 cases. Drivers involved in dangerously obstructive driving were slapped with charges of assault in 24 cases and charges of inflicting bodily injury in four cases.

From January to October 2019, there were 12,377 cases in which drivers involved in obstructive driving endangering traffic were accused of failing to keep a sufficient distance from the vehicle ahead.

However, the penalty for failing to keep a safe distance between cars on expressways is not more than three months in prison or a fine not exceeding 50,000 yen. Only two penalty points are deducted from the licenses of those who commit such offenses.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Sasaki, City News Department)

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