I’ve been caught for speeding since upgrading to a larger motorcycle. My old 250 could exceed the speed limit, but it had to fight for it. My current bike though has a hard time not exceeding it.
Each time I was awarded points. I never really kept track of these though, and only had a vague notion of how many points i’d accrued, or even how many were needed before bad things started to happen. Thankfully, the Tokyo Drivers Licensing Office cleared both of these points up for me in the form of the mailer on the left.
I had accumulated 6 points, but because each incident was regarded as a ‘light infraction’ (3 points or less) I was selected to attend a daylong safety course. This sounds like a drag but attending the course removes every point from your license, giving you a blank slate. The alternative to the course is having your license suspended for 30 days, and keep the points.
So this morning I headed not to work, but to the Fuchu Licensing Center in Western Tokyo.
Entering the lobby on the first floor, I had no idea where to go. Waving the mailer they sent me resulted in a guy laughing and then telling me to go to the fifth floor, where a bunch of other violators were waiting for the events to begin. It was an odd crowd but the guy poorly bleached hair visibly, and constantly, scratching his crotch made everyone else seem pretty normal and down to earth.
Eventually an energetic Japanese man in a suit and a yellow sash gathered us and started to explain our options for the day: Course A or Course B. Each course would have three hours of lectures in the morning. In the afternoon, those who chose Course A would drive around town with a Safety expert, receiving pointers. People in Course B would don a bright yellow Transportation Safety sash, ride a micro bus to a crosswalk somewhere, and then hold up a flag whenever people crossed. In the rain.
Surprisingly, most about 2/3rds of the people assembled chose course B. It was 4000 yen cheaper, but sounded remarkably frustrating and useless. I went with Course A.
The morning sessions were pretty tame. I was expecting gruesome videos of accidents, followed by safety statistics, and a refresher on various traffic laws. Instead, they ran us through a ‘driver personality test’ consisting of a bunch of rapid fire yes/no questions. I was classified as type A personality, meaning i like to show off and impress people by driving aggressive. Which is rather silly, I drive a little crazy because it’s fun and I’m sure people are more annoyed with me than impressed.
It was still an interesting little exercise though. Most people answered ‘correctly’, and their questionares back with a ‘You have no personality issues’ result. There were a few outliers though. One older guy answered so honestly he was classed as B, C, D, and E. Personality Issue Class E sounded a little harsh, summarized as ‘It seems that you do not care at all about driving safely.’
There were some statistics, which actually turned out to be pretty interesting. He was understandably happy, and proud, that the numbers continue to decline.
The afternoon found me in a car with the instructor and 2 other minor criminals. The instructor drove us around a little bit, covering a few basic safety tips and stressing that we should always come to a full stop before the white line and be careful of cyclists. Which is good advice, the roads are nowhere near as crazy as china but are a lot of cyclists, scooters, and motorcycles, all of which tend to lurk in your blind spot. We each took a turn driving around town and then the instructor pulled us to the side of the road and told us what we were doing wrong.
My big problem was holding the steering wheel wrong. I have a bad habit of driving with only one hand on the wheel. I actually felt pretty good about that. If his main concern was the way I was holding the steering wheel, then I guess my driving is not too horrifying.
In addition to the real car, they also had us run through a simulator. There were only 4 women in the class, but every one of them complained that the simulator made them motion sickness. I wasn’t sure if it was a plot, an odd coincidence, or if japanese women just tend to get motion sickness from video games easily. They ended up sitting the simulator out, but the rest of us went through what felt like a poor man’s Gran Turismo. It had a force feedback steering wheel and a bucket seat, but only 4 available cars and very short courses. I saw the guy to my right kill a little boy, cream a cyclist, and crash into another car, which was pretty funny. I was able to leverage the massive amount of time I’ve wasted playing video games and completed each simulation unscathed, receiving the coveted rank of ‘A’.
After all this were two more lectures. First they explained the point system in detail, though I still find it confusing. During the second, we actually answered essay questions. It felt a bit like celebrity Jeopardy. The instructor stressed multiple times that this is not a test, and there are no wrong answers. Whatever you write, is correct. You have to write two lines. But if that’s difficult, just write bigger. Seriously.
It was an enjoyable day because of the novelty of it, but I didn’t really gain any insights, and don’t fell that I’m a safer driver. I will still speed where I feel it’s safe, and illegally park my bike if I think I can get away with it.
Having those 6 points removed and avoiding a 30 day suspension sure is great though.