MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Put the pedal to the metal off base and soon you could be thumbing it.

Under a new policy, law enforcement officers at this northern Japan base now are tallying points against a person’s driver’s license for any traffic citations received off base.

The rule applies to any individual, including military personnel, civilians, contractors and family members, covered by the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement and issued a driver’s license at Misawa Air Base.

“We are the ([Department of Motor Vehicles] for SOFA members, if you want to equate it back to the U.S.,” said Maj. Joe Milner, 35th Security Forces Squadron commander.

“Just like if you were in another state, or in this case, jurisdiction,” a traffic citation would “typically be forwarded back to your home state and they would take points on your license.”

Security officials at Misawa learned last month that other bases in Japan already count points for off-base tickets.

In mid-November, the Air Force clarified its guidance on the issue, directing bases to “make sure you’re doing this,” Milner said.

“When we talked with 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces Japan, we found that (at) Yokota, Kadena and the other service bases, if you get a ticket downtown, and they were the issuing base for your license, they were taking points for that.”

The Japanese National Police always have sent Misawa security forces traffic citations issued to base residents, but typically base officials imposed no additional penalties for minor infractions.

Security forces would translate the information on the ticket and, in the case of a servicemember, forward it to the person’s first sergeant or unit commander.

The supervisor usually took no action but to ensure the member paid the associated fine, Milner said.

The base’s traffic point system now applies to off-base violations.

For example, a ticket for speeding 10 to 15 kilometers per hour (about 6 to 9 miles per hour) over the limit can add four points to one’s driving record.

Twelve points accrued in a year results in a six-month suspension of driving privileges.

Milner said the biggest impact will be to drivers caught going excessively fast off base.

In August, Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, 35th Fighter Wing and installation commander, mandated that anyone caught speeding 30 kph (about 18 mph) over the posted limit would immediately forfeit driving privileges for three months.

That penalty, Milner said, also applies to speeding off-base, where people tend to drive faster.

The major noted that Japanese police do forward tickets recorded remotely by cameras on Japan’s expressways.

Misawa’s new policy applies to any citations received from Japanese National Police after Dec. 1, Milner said, regardless of when the incident occurred.

“There’s a pretty good stack that has arrived,” Milner said, noting one ticket forwarded by Japanese police this week was for a fine of 18,000 yen or about $180.

He said he was unsure how fast the speeder was travelling but usually, the higher the fine, the higher the rate of speed.

“Our overall goal is still safety and community relations,” Milner said.

“We want to be good neighbors here and speeding is not being a good neighbor. It has a detrimental effect on our relationship.”

The point system: Some examples

Examples of speeding violations and points added to a driver’s record from Misawa Air Base’s traffic point system and wing policy:

¶ Speeding 1 to 10 kph over speed limit: 3 points

¶ Speeding 10 to 15 kph over speed limit: 4 points

¶ Speeding 16 to 20 kph over speed limit: 5 points

¶ Speeding 20 to 30 kph over speed limit: 6 points

¶ Speeding more than 30 kph over speed limit: immediate loss of driving privileges for three months.

¶ Receive 12 points within one year: six-month license suspension

¶ Receive 15 points within one year: one-year license revocation

¶ Receive six tickets within 12 months: one-year revocation

— Stars and Stripes

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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