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Japan toughens traffic, DUI laws

KADENA AB, Japan -- Passengers in vehicles driven off-base by intoxicated drivers may face prison time and a fine under new laws being implemented by the Japanese Government Sep. 19 and applicable to military members and their families. 

Japanese officials have revised sentences for current laws, established new laws, and are taking an even tougher stance on traffic and alcohol-related driving offenses. 

"DUI laws in Japan are incredibly strict," said Maj. Matthew Grant, 18th Wing deputy staff judge advocate. "The new laws criminalize conduct which enable violations of Japanese DUI laws." 

In Japan, a driver can violate driving under the influence laws with as little as .03 percent blood alcohol content, said Tech. Sgt. Matt Howard, 18th Security Forces Squadron police services NCO-in-charge.  BAC is the concentration of alcohol in the blood. 

"For many people that's less than one 12-ounce can of beer," he said. 

The new laws will hold accountable those that provide alcohol to someone who is subsequently caught for driving under the influence and those who provide a vehicle to an intoxicated driver. 

"Any person who serves alcohol to another person who is later arrested or cited for driving under the influence of alcohol may be fined, imprisoned, or both," Major Grant said. 

Likewise, those who loan a vehicle to a person who is later arrested or cited for DUI can face the same fate, said the major. 

"The new law also punishes passengers who ride in a vehicle with a drunk driver," he said. "The average fine for all of these new offenses will be in the thousands." 

Another key factor people should notice about the new laws is the dollar amounts for committing any of the infractions. 

"The average punishment for a DUI without aggravating circumstances was between 
$ 2,000 to $ 3,000," Major Grant said. "These fines will double after the new DUI laws take effect." 

Although the Japanese laws apply off-base and cannot be enforced for driving on Kadena Air Base, security forces will continue to take follow-up actions for incidents involving personnel assigned here. 

"The current limits on 12-hour suspensions and revocations will remain the same with aggressive enforcement, even if the incident occurs off base," said Capt. Sarah Bragg, 18th SFS operations officer. 

SFS officials impose driving suspensions and license revocations on those charged with driving while intoxicated or under the influence. Individuals can lose their driving privileges for 12-hours--for having a .03 to .05 percent BAC--and up to a year for a .08 percent BAC or higher, said Sergeant Howard. 

"Although .03 is not the legal limit on base, we will still take their license, driving privileges and notify first sergeants," he said. 

Sergeant Howard also cautions that people may also be under the influence after taking over-the-counter cold and flu medications or after taking hallucinogenic drugs. 

Japanese law applies to all of those who fall under the Status of Forces Agreement--military, civilian employees, contractors and family members, said Major Grant. 

"The SOFA requires that we obey the law," he said. "If a SOFA-status person is caught driving under the influence off-base, that person will be prosecuted by Japanese authorities." 

The message is clear for Team Kadena 

"Don't drive after drinking any amount of alcohol, and don't allow your guests or drinking buddies to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol," Major Grant said. "We, Team Kadena, and our Japanese hosts are deadly serious about eliminating DUIs." 

Highlights of new Japanese traffic laws: 

1. Driving Under the Influence, BAC .08 or higher
Previous maximum sentence: Imprisonment with hard labor not to exceed 3 years or a fine not exceeding 500,000 yen
New maximum: Imprisonment with hard labor not to exceed 5 years or fine not exceeding 1,000,000 yen.
2. Driving While Impaired, BAC .03 to .79
Previous maximum sentence: Imprisonment with hard labor not to exceed 1 year or a fine not exceeding 300,000 yen
New maximum: Imprisonment with hard labor not to exceed 3 years or a fine not exceeding 500,000 yen
3. Providing an intoxicated person with a vehicle (new law)
Maximum sentence: Same punishment as a drunken driver receives shall be applied.
4. Providing a person with alcohol who subsequently gets a DUI or DWI (new law)
Maximum sentence: Imprisonment with hard labor not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding 500,000 yen for DUI; 2 years imprisonment, 300,000 yen fine for DWI
5. Riding as passengers in a vehicle operated by an intoxicated person (new law)
Maximum sentence: Imprisonment with hard labor not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding 500,000 yen for DUI; 2 years imprisonment, 300,000 yen fine for DWI
6. Rejecting balloon (sobriety) test
Previous maximum punishment: Fine not exceeding 300,000 yen
New maximum: Confinement not exceeding 3 months or fine not exceeding 500,000 yen 
7. Hit and run
Previous maximum sentence: Confinement not exceeding 5 years or fine not exceeding 500,000 yen
New maximum: Confinement not exceeding 10 years or fine not exceeding 1,000,000 yen