Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Japanese accidents

The Japanese system as it applies to traffic accidents hasn't been particularly visible in the past.  It's not something that shows up in the newspapers (that I'm aware of) and you don't really know there's something going on until you're directly affected by it.  I've heard anecdotal stories from foreigners in Tokyo about how someone riding a scooter or a bicycle will be hit by a car and the police will automatically assume that the car driver is blameless.  But, that's mostly just rumor and I can't substantiate it.

Recently, though, I was talking to a Japanese guy I know, and he'd just gotten his car totaled by another driver.  He was driving the main road south of Kagoshima, where it's four lanes.  The other driver, a woman, had decided to make the turn across his lane to enter a convenience store on the opposite side of the road from her.  She ran smack into the side of his car, giving him a slight whiplash.  She was unscathed.  The police had to make the trip from the main station in Kagoshima, which took forty minutes.  They took both sides's stories and let both of them go.  Later, he saw a doctor to have his neck examined and treated.

According to the guy, there are two kinds of car insurance, basic (what he called "giri", or "compulsory") and elective.  Most drivers get both, but the woman only had basic insurance, which has a 3,000,000 yen ($30,000) cap.  He was saying that her insurance company was only going to cover $4,500 of the repairs to his car, and there's a limit to what they'd pay for his hospital bills.

The interesting thing is the assignment of blame, which I'd encountered in my police visit.  The police determined that the woman was 9/10's responsible for the accident, but that the guy she rammed into was 1/10 responsible.  Presumably because he didn't react fast enough, it's partly his fault.  While the insurance company would pay him up to $5,000 for the accident, since the female driver was 9/10's responsible, that means the guy would get only $4,500.

This is where things get interesting.  The system rewards the first person to do something boneheaded (like driving without looking around), because the one that gets hit should have noticed something was wrong and gotten out of the way.  In my case, I should have let the car prevent me from crossing the road and returned to the corner to wait the 5 minutes for the light to cycle.  She gets to cut people off as she likes, and everyone else has to accept it.  Identical situation for this guy - he panic swerves to avoid getting broadsided, and she gets her parking space at the convenience store.  Why? Because that 1/10th responsibility for the accident means that the one being hit doesn't automatically receive "compensation for pain and suffering" (saiban).  You need witnesses and a good lawyer in order to take the other person to court, and I don't know how successful that is in Japan (one of the taxi drivers I talked to was pretty adamant about doing so, though).  So, the person getting hit either tries to stand their ground, gets hit and spends months recovering from it with the other driver not really being punished; or, the one about to be hit accepts that the other driver is a bonehead, does everything possible to avoid the accident, and the bonehead doesn't even notice that there was a problem.  Either way, the one to make the first move wins.

What really bothered the guy I was talking to, though, is that the woman never tried to contact him afterward to apologize, make a peace offering, or to see how he was doing.  So, what angered him the most wasn't that she'd totaled his car or that her insurance wasn't going to cover 100% of his expenses, but that she's acting like either she doesn't care, or that it's his fault for letting her hit him.


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