In many places the eternal battle between motorist and traffic cop is carried on like a game of cat and mouse with law enforcement lying in wait for its prey undetected behind a billboard or at the bottom of a hill. Not so in Japan where the task is turned over to an array of speed cameras.
But for motorists this is at least a fair fight. Local authorities are required by law to provide signage (usually blue signs with white letters although the warnings are not uniform) that announce the presence of surveillance. When a driver spots one of these signs hanging over the roadway the speed sensors will be in force in the upcoming stretch of of road.
Speed cameras are a shorthand description for the different monitoring systems used by traffic authorities. They are known as jido sokudo ihan torishimari sochi which translates to “automated speed violation control devices.” The are several different types employed…
Radar. You will still see these antiquated speed detection systems beside the road looking like a phone booth from yesteryear or, for more elaborate installations, a guard tower in a prison yard. Some even utilize traditional film in the high-speed cameras that are triggered by the radar dish.
Loop coils. Much harder to spot are electro-magnetic coils engineered directly into the road surface. Most drivers will not notice them as they roll over the sensors but the cameras used to record vehicles will likely be visible.
H System. This is the nascent radar system all grown up. Not only are the speed detection and camera technology fully digital but the information recorded is relayed instantly to police. If you run afoul of an H System it does not even require a high intensity flash to snap your picture. L-H Systems use the loop coils for detection rather than radar readings.
Mobile Units. Sometimes police like to stretch their legs and get back in the field for some good old-fashioned speed trapping. They can install randomly placed speed sensors that will alert an officer down the road who may wave a red flag to pull you to the side and render a ticket. A more common option is to trigger a camera in a van to photograph your vehicle.
Speed detection devices are seldom set up to the the strict letter of the law. You will hear personal anecdotes that you can safely go 20 kph over or 30 kph over the posted limit without triggering a fine. Divers on expressways are believed to be given more leeway than on city streets and rural roads. Of course, even if that is so the devices can be changed from one day to the next to trip you up.
For non-mobile devices, drivers will not know they have been targeted for speeding until a violation notification arrives at the address of the registered vehicle. If it is a rental car, the agency will supply all pertinent information to police. If recorded on an early model radar detecting system the notification may not arrive for months after the violation – all that film needs time to be developed after all. Modern systems streamline the process down to a few days.
With violation notification in hand you must report to the local police station with your license, valid vehicle inspection certificate and personal seal. And a payment if you are not ready to fight the citation.
Heavy-footed motorists looking to avoid speeding tickets can also employ radar detectors, which are legal, and GPS devices that detail the location of speed cameras. This being Japan, however, the actual purpose of these products is so motorists know which roads are NOT being monitored and are therefore less safe.