Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Watch out Japan....You have a Wheeler on your roads!!!

Last week Kris and I had an entire day of the AOB (Area Orientation Brief) dedicated to driving safety.  We checked out our driving manuals on Tuesday and started studying.  Really, most of the signs are the same here as they are in the U.S.  Slippery road, right turn ahead, construction zone.  Some are a little different...the stop signs are red and white inverted triangles, the speed signs are circles.

On Friday we were given the rules of the road.  Our instructor told us where to park and where not to park.  We also learned that driving offenses in Japan are WAY more strict than they are in the U.S.  Such as, hitting a pedestrian with your car - even if they walk out in front of you without warning - is almost guaranteed 100% your fault!  In Japan if you have a driver's license, you are considered a Professional Driver, so you are supposed to be accutely aware of what is happening ALL around you at ALL times.  If you do run into a pedestrian with your car and that person has to go to the hospital, you could be looking at jail time.  If that person dies, you are definitely looking at a long jail sentence.

Drinking and driving is serious business here.  He told a story of a drunk American sailor that hit a lady with his car and she ended up in the hospital.  That was a few years ago and the sailor is still in jail!  In the U.S. you are considered DUI at 0.08% Blood Alcohol Concentration. If you are caught, the first time your license is suspended for 90 days, pay up to $1000 in fines and spend at least 48 hours in jail.  In Japan you are considered DWDI, Driving While Drinking Indicated, at 0.03% and you can go to jail for quite a while as well as pay upwards of $200,000 in fines.  Our instructor told us one guy he knew was arrested for DWDI and put in jail for ten days, without notification to anyone-not even his command, released and as soon as he stepped one foot outside the police station, he was arrested for another 10 days, without notification to anyone again, then released again, arrested again, and still no notification!  That was for thirty days!  The guy was in big trouble when he finally got out.  It is also law here, that if you are the passenger in a car and the driver is pulled over for DWDI, you can be arrested even if you, or any other passenger in the car, is sober!  That should be law everywhere, in my opinion. Needless to say, we watched several sad videos of people being hurt or reenactments of serious car accidents that morning.  (If you want to show new - or old - drivers the consequences of drinking and driving or of not wearing a seatbelt check out these videos:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qOKLuRSgLU and   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU3Gd0RjDr0  - BEFORE YOU WATCH....they are pretty graphic, but drive the point home, reminds me of some of the videos we watched as part of our drinking and driving seminars at Lake Forest.)

Okay, so we get to the test Friday afternoon, and it was probably 80% road signs.  Yay!  We finished the test and waited for the instructor to grade all 100 tests.  30 minutes later they start calling out the test numbers of those who failed the test.  We passed!  Kris scheduled us to take the driving test the next week.

Kris took his practical test yesterday.  He found out that he got a 96% on his written and I got a 94%.  The driving instructor packed five people into the little car and let the first person set off on his test.  First, he started the test by having the driver adjust mirrors, then he got out of the car and had the driver pull forward one foot and stop (not at all sure why this happened??), then the instructor got back in, informed us all that he hurt his back and to avoid all bumps.  That is the same thing he told friends of ours five months ago.  He also tells the driver not to stop at crosswalks, it is not required, and so he doesn't want us to do it.  Well, that's mostly true, unless there is someone in the crosswalk, but okay.  So, driver number one drives over by the middle school then backs into a parking space.  Drivers two and three drive around an apartment building.  Driver four drives back to the licensing office and backs into the parking space.  Done.  Kris passes with 100%, of course!  :)  He did admit to hitting the windshield wipers a few times instead of the turn signal (did I mention that not only do we have to learn how to drive on the left side of the road, but we also have to learn to drive on the opposite side of the car?).

Today it was my turn.  I worried all night about the test.  There were three of us in the car today.  The first person was a young sailor.  We also got the speech about the back and the crosswalks.  And, he made the first guy pull out of the parking spot one foot before getting into the car and proceeding.  So, this guy pulls out onto the main road and the instructor says, "don't stop at crosswalk".  Well, there was a lady stepping up to the crosswalk just as he said that, the young sailor says "ok" and keeps going, even though the lady walked right on out into the crosswalk expecting us to stop!  Yikes!  He didn't hit her, but the car was a little closer than she would have liked, and she gave him the nastiest look imaginable.  The instructor says "it's okay, it's okay.  She is a brave woman."  ha ha.  This guy drives us to the parking lot, backs into the parking space and accidentally parks one foot into the spot beside him.  Now, it's my turn.  I adjust my mirrors and drive around the building.  20 km is a lot slower than I had imagined.  I had to be told to slow down once and I accidentally hit the wipers, but just once.  I backed into the parking space perfectly!  yay!  Now, it's the third guy's turn.  He is one of those drivers that slams on the brake when coming to a stop.  Whiplash!  Then, he had to drive back to the licensing building and on a gentle curve around a housing development the guy slams into the curb!  And, this is the guy who has to park the car in a full parking lot at the licensing place!  As he was pulling forward to back in the instructor said "don't hit curb.  don't hit curb.  don't hit curb" at least half a dozen times!

So, we now have licenses!  We've paid for half of our car (kind of slow when we have a limit to take cash out of the ATM each day), insurance is paid for the year, and the dealer is taking our car to Yokohama today to get it registered.  So, with any luck we will be able to drive our own vehicle by Friday!  :)  I'm only brave enough to drive on base so far.  It's too terrifying to think about driving off base!