Japan eyes jail terms for drivers caught using mobile phones

  • Last year there were 2,832 traffic accidents that led to injuries and deaths because of mobile phone use, marking a 50 per cent increase from 2012
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 9:39pm

Penalties for driving while using a mobile phone in Japan will be toughened with prison terms and more fines following a surge in the number of accidents, according to a bill released on Thursday.

Those caught distracted while driving are subject to fines under current law, but calls for tougher penalties have been growing particularly after a fatal accident in 2016 that saw a 9-year-old boy die after being hit by a truck whose driver was playing the popular smartphone game “Pokemon Go.”

The National Police Agency will solicit public comments on the bill to revise the nation’s road traffic law for about a month from Tuesday before finalising it.

The number of traffic accidents that have led to injuries and deaths because of mobile phone use hit 2,832 last year, marking a 50 per cent increase from 2012. Of the total, 40 were fatal, according to police.

While the current law states that those who use a mobile phone while driving a vehicle will be fined up to 50,000 yen (US$447), the new bill calls for a fine of up to 100,000 yen (US$895) or a prison term of up to six months.

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Similarly, a person who poses a threat to traffic through the use of a mobile phone may be subjected to a prison term of up to one year or a fine of 300,000 yen (US$2,684), instead of the current penalty of a prison term of up to three months or a fine of up to 50,000 yen.

If a person causes an accident that leads to an injury or fatality as a result of driving while using a mobile phone, the person’s driving licence can be suspended for up to 30 days, according to the new bill.

Distracted driving cases that pose a threat to traffic would be excluded from any form of special lenient treatment that allows people who commit a petty violation to avoid being criminally charged if they pay a fine.

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The police are also considering raising the fines threefold for cases that do not pose a danger to traffic and are covered by the more lenient system from the current 7,000 yen (US$63) for large vehicles, 6,000 yen (US$54) for regular cars and motorcycles, and 5,000 yen (US$45) for small motor vehicles.

Last year, there were 915,623 cases of people using mobile phones while driving, and an additional 174 cases in which drivers posed a danger to traffic, according to the police.