Dangerous Driving: Take Necessary Steps to Bring Malicious Acts to Justice

Even obviously reckless driving is currently difficult to legally deem “dangerous driving.” This current situation diverges from the views of the public. Necessary measures should be taken to ensure that malicious driving is strictly dealt with.

The Justice Ministry has launched a study group to discuss a review of requirements for charges of “dangerous driving causing death or injury.” Based on the law to punish dangerous driving causing death or injury, this crime is applied to such acts as causing an accident by driving at a high speed that makes it exceedingly difficult to control the vehicle. The maximum punishment for such dangerous driving is 20 years of imprisonment with labor.

Cases in which drivers caused accidents involving bodily injury were previously considered as negligence due to driving errors. However, an accident caused by drunken driving on the Tomei Expressway, in which two girls were killed, sparked a public outcry for heavier punishments against malicious driving, and this crime was newly established.

However, because the criteria for a charge of dangerous driving are unclear, it is difficult to say that the law has had its intended operation.

In 2018, a fatal incident occurred in Tsu, in which a car traveling at 146 kph on a general road where the legal speed limit was 60 kph collided with a taxi, killing four, including passengers in the taxi. The district court recognized negligent driving rather than dangerous driving by the car’s driver and sentenced him to seven years of imprisonment with labor, which was later finalized.

The family members of the deceased strongly objected, saying that it was impossible for the act not to be deemed dangerous driving. The driver was speeding well beyond the speed limit, so their outrage is natural.

The court ruled that the defendant was in control of his car, given that the car was not out of the driving lane, among other reasons, even while it also recognized that the driving was dangerous from a commonsense point of view. The ruling is hard to understand even for people other than the bereaved families.

Regarding accidents in the cities of Oita and Utsunomiya that occurred when cars were driven at furious speeds exceeding the legal speed limits by more than 100 kph, the perpetrators were indicted for charges of negligent driving. Although the charge in the Oita accident was later changed to dangerous driving in the indictment, there has been constant confusion across the nation over the interpretation of the “difficult to control” clause of the law.

The current law also has other points that are difficult to understand. In case a driver deliberately ignores a red light and then causes an accident, the act is deemed dangerous driving. Yet what does “deliberately” mean? It is hoped that criteria for such matters will be clarified as much as possible, so that the law will operate properly.

Nonetheless, if the excess speed that constitutes dangerous driving is defined as 100 kph or more in excess of the limit, a problem will arise as speeding of up to 99 kph would then have to be judged simply as negligent driving.

It is not easy to uniformly determine a level of excessive speed that constitutes dangerous driving. In reality, there is no choice but to leave room for judges to make individual decisions based on the circumstances at the scene and the suspect’s statements.

It is hoped that the law will be operated in line with its original purposes in order to not enable malicious driving as a result of excessive concern with the interpretation of the text of the law.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 7, 2024)