Home > Focus on Japan 2005 > Tokyo Speed Trap Redux

Tokyo Speed Trap Redux

February 14th, 2005

Caught another speed trap on film recently. It’s not too hard to do, actually, if you happen to use the streets the police here choose for their little setup. I have seen three speed traps in Japan. Actually, I’ve seen a speed traps dozens of times–but it’s always in the same three places. Not just the same general area, but the exact same spot, every time. I’ve posted on this before, but didn’t have time to document it all on film in detail.

One would think that drivers along these roads should easily enough be able to note where the cops set up their traps, and just slow down at those specific points. Not very smart or creative on the part of the police–drivers should be able to figure out that they can break any and all traffic laws elsewhere, they just have to slow down and behave on this 50-meter stretch of road.

Here’s how it works. First, they choose a road out in the countryside. The road is always the same type: long and wide, no pedestrian crossings, intersections only every half kilometer or so, and one side of the road a river or embankment. The kind of road where, say, 50 mph (80 kph) is completely reasonable–but where the posted limit is 25 mph (40 kph). You’ve got the radar cop sitting at a hidden spot (behind a telephone pole, in some bushes, etc.) with his radar setup exposed but placed so as to blend in as well as possible. In the shots below, you’ve got the radar gun looking almost like a post in a long white railing, and the cop sitting behind bushes on some stairs.


It’s almost invisible, but you can just see the guy’s nose sticking out from behind the bushes at left, just where the hand railing disappears behind the bushes. Below, closer looks at the radar:



You might even notice how close the radar gun is in appearance to the one I caught 1 1/2 years ago, about 10km away in a different city (older photo on left):


After the hidden cop catches a car or bike going fast enough, he talks to the other cops (by radio, but he also stepped out and signaled sometimes) down the street:


One of these guys has a machine which is in radio contact with the radar machine run by the first guy, and he has a little receipt printer which spits out the incriminating data. He does this while the uniformed motorcycle cop goes out into the street with a little “Stop” flag on a pole, while he and another motorcycle cop stand ready to zoom after anyone who decides to make a break for it. (Another reason they choose roads like this: there are no streets for people to turn off to in case they notice the radar gun too late; this is the “fish in a barrel” aspect to the exercise.)



Then the driver is led over to a desk set up by the cops, who can handle up to five speeders at a time, no waiting:


Of course, this would be far more respectable if they were catching people who sped unreasonably–in a way that was dangerous at all. But one common characteristic to all speed traps in Tokyo that I have seen or heard of is that they are set up at a location based upon how easy it is to catch people, not how dangerously they are driving. The people they stop are not hazards on the road, they are simply driving in excess of speed limits which are set ridiculously low for the road. And from what I understand about Japanese traffic tickets, the cops involved get a cut of the proceeds.

It really puts you in mind of the “Speed Trap” song by Hoyt Axton:

I’m the cop in a little bitty town
And I don’t get much pay
Oh but I caught seventeen out of state cars
And four of my friends today

Yeah, I let the hometown boys go home
They paid five dollars’ bail
Oh but all the drivers in the out of state cars
Had to go to jail

Well, they hollered and they moaned, and they cried and they groaned
They all swore that they’d sue
But the judge was high, and so was I
And we needed the money, too

Yeah, the judge and me, we got a deal y’see
We split the money fair
‘Cept for thirty percent to the county seat
To keep the law out of our hair

And old Charlie’s working out real good
Down at the corner store where the red light is
He sees them out of state plates two blocks away
And when they get right up on top of that green light
Old Charlie pushes that secret button underneath the corner drugstore counter
That yellow light only lasts for a tenth of a second

Yeah, the county pays me about forty a week
Ain’t that the livin’ end
If it wasn’t for them tourists in them out of state cars,
I’d have no loot to spend

But the way it stands this year so far
I’ve made a hundred thou’
For a high school dropout, I’m-a doin’ fine
I make more than the president now (‘course,
he’s honest)

So if you’re drivin’ down the road
And flashin’ lights you see
If they’re on top of a red Rolls Royce
You can bet your boots it’s me

‘Cause I’m the cop in a little bitty town
And I’d sure like to see
All them drivers in them out of state cars
Try to get by me


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  1. February 15th, 2005 at 19:13 | #1

    How familiar this sounds!

    Here, in South Africa it is almost exactly the same, apart from the fact that you have a neat little set of reception desks on the roadside so that you can pay your fine. Instead you have to go to some government building and wait in an incredibly long, slow, queue.

    Further, they use little strips across the road that people see, slow down, smile at the copper and then zoom off.

    It’d be ok if they were near schools, pedestrian complexes and dangerous intersections, instead of dual-carriageways with no buildings or junctions.

  2. minimalistmatt
    February 24th, 2005 at 18:22 | #2

    I thought of this article last night when it was on British TV news about Japan’s prime minister being horrified that the police would run away from a driver/ thief wielding a baton at them. There wasn’t a lot of detail on the TV but it was quite a funny sight. Pity for the policemen someone filmed that. (wouldn’t have happened if beat takeshi had been the policeman!)

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