Home > Focus on Japan 2008 > Another Reason to Not Like Japanese Traffic Cops

Another Reason to Not Like Japanese Traffic Cops

June 4th, 2008

I ran out of gas on the way in to work this morning, so I had to stop and fill up–and as a result, I was running a few minutes late. Still, I took care as usual when driving–did not exceed the speed limit (at least not by any more than everyone else did), and followed the traffic rules.

But then, not too far from work, after just rounding a corner, a motorcycle cop on foot flagged me down and waved me to the roadside. It was the typical speed trap–they have some guy with a radar gun right before the turn, and when you trip the sensor, they pull you over. Except I hadn’t been speeding.

Still, you get the usual range of surprise, fear, adrenaline, and (in this case) anger, when you get pulled over. It is an extremely unpleasant feeling, as your mind races over the fees and the points against your license, and the problems with renewing your license later on. No one enjoys getting pulled over by a cop.

So I pull over and a police woman approaches me. And hands me a package of tissue. What the…? It is accompanied by a flier, telling of traffic fatalities. “There have been a lot of accidents here, so be careful!” she starts out. Exasperated, I explain that I am late and don’t have time for this. She says something I don’t catch, then waves me on.

I was reminded of a story I once heard, of a woman who was driving along and a cop started his siren and pulled her over. It turned out that he wanted to compliment her on her good driving. She was livid. And so was I. The police have no business pulling people over for stuff like that–I was driving within speed limits, safely, and wearing better gear than most (a firmly-starpped-on full-face helmet, where most scooter drivers wear cheapo top-of-the-head-only plastic helmets, often loosely applied). Police must know they scare the crap out of people when they do that. A roadside sign would have done the job better. As I left the round-up, I was not more cognizant of traffic safety–I was seething at the police for needlessly scaring me and making me late, probably concentrating less on traffic safety as a result.

As I have written before, Japanese police, especially traffic police, are widely disrespected, and deservedly so.

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  1. e.e.goodman
    June 5th, 2008 at 01:40 | #1

    Yeah, I’d be pretty annoyed too, but it could be worse. At least cops drive around with lights flashing to announce their presence in some jurisdictions and are always there when we truly need them; for directions.

  2. June 5th, 2008 at 07:16 | #2

    Similar story: I drive a Honda Dio scooter and i was running late too. i was speeding like crazy to get to work and it was raining so i am sure this was dangerous too. As i approached a rail-road crossing i slowed down but the rails started to fall so i quickly accelerated to get over in time. as soon as i crossed over… Eight, i shit you not, EIGHT police officers “helped” flag me down and informed me that i had commited a “penalty”(is that a katakana word?). as i took my helmet off they all had the “bikuri” expression and then awkwardly laughed that they had stopped a foriegner. Without telling me anything, they ushered me off the side of the road, asked for my info and then put me into the back of a police car! i was scared to death. how big was the “penalty”? Longer story short: getting put in the back of the car was to be nice and get me out of the rain. Penalty was that i didnt come to a complete stop. this was police awareness day. i saw a few students and parents get pulled over too so i was sad/happy i wasnt alone. total fine: 1000yen. and yes it came in the mail and i paid it at the conbini. so for speeding every day for the past year and getting caught for an oops instead of the speading thing… i am relieved. it was the whole passive aggressive thing that bothered me. they told me i wasnt going to be fined or receive a ticket or anything. but a week later i got it in the mail. silly japan. gtg speed off to work now:)

  3. Luis
    June 5th, 2008 at 09:27 | #3

    Mages64: You got off way lucky. A measly thousand yen? Wish the tickets I get were that cheap. I don’t think I’ve seen one below 5,000. But I’ve never been cited for a railroad crossing violation before. The funny thing is, though, that I have not gotten a traffic ticket for almost two years now, and a big part of that has to do with moving to central Tokyo: the traffic cops are a lot less busy here. I have only seen one speed trap, and the cops don’t even sit at intersections often. Out in Inagi, I used to run across cops all the time. The cops love to set up speed traps along countryside roads, where the danger is the least, the speed limits are ludicrously low, and it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

  4. June 5th, 2008 at 18:15 | #4

    ironically today i avoided two speed traps. i posted a comment right before i left for work and was thinking about traffic cops the whole way. it was raining again. this time i stopped correctly and went the speed limit simply because of your post. I passed TWO cops with some device. as i was waiting at the same train stop i got pulled over 2 months ago… 4 girls from my school drove by on the bicycles except there were only two bikes between the four of them. they got pulled over and cited. good job japanese police. and the second trap pulled over a different old lady on a scooter. why i don’t know. but i think i owe u 1000 for posting this lol.

  5. Luis
    June 5th, 2008 at 18:24 | #5

    Mages: Glad to be of service. The machine you saw was almost certainly a radar machine, like the ones seen in these posts:



    …but they were ticketing bicycles? Wow, they must be desperate for funds… or maybe all the motorcyclists are wise to them and they have to get their money some other way.

    Here’s one thing I noticed about police in Tokyo: they are very monogamous about their spots. If I observe them in one spot at one time, then I will never see them for miles in either direction later–they always camp out at the same stop, like a cop in the U.S. behind his favorite billboard. Get to know the spots (hopefully by spotting it without getting a ticket) and simply slow down and follow the rules studiously every time you pass that point, and you’ll usually be OK. Might be different where you are, but they are always like that in west Tokyo.

    But I owe a ticket to a truck driver from long ago. Was approaching a speed trap area, and sometimes forgot to slow down–but this time, a truck driver flashed his brights at me. I took off from the intersection toward the trap wondering why he did that–and realized what he meant just in time–slowed down, and avoided a ticket.

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