Japan is a left side driving country with the steering on the right of the car. For us Aussies, it makes life easy since it’s just like driving at home and the road rules are similar to those in Australia.
Regardless, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations in a new country before jumping into the drivers seat to avoid any preventable mishaps. In Japan, a few things to pay particular attention to are:
- Traffic signs and lights: Study up on these before you go as there are lot of signs we were unfamiliar with and it can be tricky to guess what they mean! Some traffic lights can be a bit confusing at first too as they often have red lights with concurrent green arrows which seem contradictory. Knowing what they all mean will make your road trip a breeze and help to avoid unnecessary stress on the road.
- Drinking and driving: There is ZERO tolerance for drink driving in Japan, which means you can’t have even one drink before driving. Adult passengers are also penalised for getting into the car with a drunk driver. Be smart and make sure you’re parked safely for the night before getting merry.
- Dealing with accidents: Procedures for dealing with an accident may differ to your rules at home. The exact reporting procedure you need to follow for an incident involving damage to your car/van will depend on your rental company. However, police are required to attend the scene whenever more than one party (you!) is involved, regardless of whether any injuries were sustained by drivers/passengers. Police reports are used by insurance companies to establish liability. Make sure you read the fine print of your rental contract and you’re clear on what to do should this unfortunate situation arise.
- Speed limits: Know your speed limits before setting off because there is not much signage along the way, particularly on non-toll roads. At times speed limits are painted on the road itself so keep an eye out for these. Generally, residential areas are 30km/h, local roads are 40km/h, expressways are 50km/h and outside of cities 60km/h. Toll roads have better speed limit signage and range from 60-80km/h. Although everyone around you will be speeding, stick to the limits if you want to save cash on unnecessary fines – we saw a lot of speed cameras during our trip and no one wants an awkward run in with a police officer.
- Stopping and giving way: There are some circumstances where you’ll need to give way or come to a complete stop such as at train tracks without signage telling you to do so. Therefore, knowing the basic road rules is a must.
Generally, we’ve found that Japanese drivers are very polite and courteous when it comes to giving way or letting you in when you need to change lanes. It’s extremely rare to hear anyone use their horn, but do expect to be overtaken constantly as most people speed. As a new driver in Japan, your car will have a sticker on the front and back which lets other drivers know you’re in your first year of driving in the country to help you ease your way onto the roads.