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A Japanese dial-a-driver service, known as "daiko," is now operating on U.S. bases in Okinawa to help prevent servicemembers from drinking and driving.
A Japanese dial-a-driver service, known as "daiko," is now operating on U.S. bases in Okinawa to help prevent servicemembers from drinking and driving. (Jessica Bidwell/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Japanese dial-a-driver service is now operating on U.S. bases in Okinawa to help prevent servicemembers from drinking and driving.

The service, known as “daiko” in Japan, gives inebriated people a lift home, along with their vehicles, after a night on the town.

The service is common in Japan, but drivers got access to Okinawa bases only last month after coming to an arrangement with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

The Japan Daiko Association is working with six taxi companies to extend the service to the bases. The goal is to cut down on DUI incidents involving the U.S. military, said Naoko Teruya, AAFES’ area service manager for Okinawa.

“This new service currently has 27 cars island-wide to assist servicemembers with a safe means of arriving home with their vehicle when they have chosen to drink on or off base,” she said. “More cars will be added as passes are processed and business warrants are attained.”

In Japan, driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .03 percent — equivalent to as little as one alcoholic drink depending on body weight — is unlawful and can result in a jail sentence.

Alcohol-related incidents involving American military personnel on Okinawa have provided fuel for activists campaigning to remove U.S. forces from the island.

Incidents involving U.S. forces on the island last year include the rape of a Japanese woman by a sailor, a crash involving an intoxicated Navy petty officer driving the wrong way down a highway that injured three people, and other alcohol-fueled crimes.

U.S. military personnel on Okinawa are arrested on DUI charges at a rate roughly on par with locals. However, the rate at which American servicemembers and civilians have been involved in drunken-driving crashes causing injury or death since 2014 is 4.2 per 10,000 people, compared with 2.2 per 10,000 for Japanese.

“Marines and Sailors continue to make wise liberty choices though one incident of drunk driving is always too many,” Sgt. Maj. Lee D. Bonar Jr., III Marine Expeditionary Force senior enlisted leader on Okinawa, said in a statement. “Drinking and driving is never an option - not here, not anywhere - and we will continue to uphold our ethos and respect our Okinawan neighbors.”

To use Okinawa’s English-language daiko service, customers can call 098-932-4035 from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., seven days a week.

The service costs 1,600 yen (about $14) for the first two kilometers and 200 yen (about $1.75) each kilometer after that. Fares must be paid in yen, but there are plans to allow credit cards in the near future, Teruya said.

bidwell.jessica@stripes.com

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