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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — All active-duty servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and dependents must possess a valid state driver’s license or similar documentation before obtaining a permit from U.S. Forces Japan, according to a new policy set to take effect July 1.

The proposal surfaced in June 2003, when military officials detected an increase in accidents among first-time drivers in Japan who had not been issued a license in the United States. U.S. commands were given a two-year deadline to comply, meaning individuals not meeting the requirement would have to go through an accredited driver’s education course on base before getting behind the wheel.

“It’s been a longer-standing issue,” said Air Force Col. Victor Warzinski, a USFJ spokesman. “Each commander was given a requirement to make sure we can take care of our people, ensure they’re properly trained to drive safely.”

Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine bases in Japan already hold mandatory orientation sessions designed to teach new arrivals about local driving conditions such as narrow lanes, operating on the left side of the road, unique signage and the special circumstances they’ll face in dealing with motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles.

That program, along with the new requirement, now applies to teenagers reaching eligibility — 16 years old for on-base driving privileges and 18 to venture outside the gates — and others without a license issued by a U.S. state or territory, the District of Columbia, a foreign nation or with written proof they have successfully completed a certified formal driving course.

“If they’re a first-time driver who’s never been licensed anywhere else, they’ll have to go through this program,” said Air Force Col. James Brophy, USFJ’s provost marshal.

It involves 45 hours of “aggregate” training — with at least six of it devoted to actual driving, he said. Instructors certified through the American Automobile Association, American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association and Department of Defense Dependents Schools teach the courses. Certificates of completion go to the participants, who then can obtain USFJ driving permits.

A majority of states require such training, Brophy said, and some U.S. bases had already adopted it.

While the July 1 deadline looms, he said extensions could be granted in certain situations if bases are struggling to comply.

“Some have raised concerns, but nobody’s actually said yet, ‘We can’t do this,’” he said.


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