japanese policeTokyo – The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department issued a press release. In rather bureaucratic language, it noted that it was pondering the expanded use of a system called “Ovis” that detects vehicles exceeding the speed limit.

Weekly Playboy (March 30) reports that the system, which is already in use in some countries, uses a camera and timer to photograph speeders. Afterwards the driver receives a summons to appear, upon which he/she might be slapped with a suspension of his license and/or a fine ranging from several tens of thousands of yen to 100,000 yen.

Up to now in Japan, speed detection systems have been limited to toll expressways and major trunk roads. However, if the police have their way, the system will be expanded to narrow streets, for example in residential neighborhoods, setting the stage for an extensive crackdown on speeders.

According the Ryoichi Imai, an authority on traffic regulations, in June 2013, LDP Diet member Keiji Furuya, then-chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, was heard to remark that the nation’s citizens should “better understand” the government’s efforts to enforce speed laws.

“At present, the trend toward enforcement of traffic regulations has been ‘enforcement for the sake of enforcement,’” the source continued. “The posted speed limit for straight sections of four-lane streets (two lanes in each direction) where there’s little likelihood of danger to pedestrians is 50 kilometers per hour. On such roads, when the flow of the traffic permits it, cars tend to travel at 70 kilometers per hour. The question is, what is a satisfactory way to nab speeders going 20 km/h over the posted limit?”

The police, which are controlled by the National Public Safety Commission, were under pressure to take action, so about two months after Furuya’s remark, they announced the formation of a special “consulting group” that would be entrusted with coming up with measures to prevent accidents.

This led to tests last November of the Ovis system on so-called “seikatsu-doro” (commercial streets, streets in residential areas, etc).

“Many police officials voiced skepticism of the necessity to crack down on speeders on such streets,” said Imai, who noted that one argument was that unlike highways, there were few places where police could set up speed traps. That led to the idea of introducing Ovis, which can be used even on narrow streets.

Then for the last two months of 2014, the MPD tested new Ovis system in Saitama, at which time speed offenders were issued summons.

The police experimented with three types of radar systems: fixed, semi-fixed and movable, all designed for the same basic purpose. Their test equipment came, respectively, from Sweden, the Netherlands and Sweden. The movable system, which most closely represents a “nezumi-tori” (speed trap) already in use by police, appeared to be the most practical, since police could take it with them when not on the scene.

If the new system is adopted on Tokyo’s streets, will it help reduce accidents? And will the fines paid make much of a contribution to the MPD’s income? From statistics compiled over the past two decades, prospects don’t seem too encouraging. Weekly Playboy notes that citations for speeding offenses peaked in 1985 with 5.64 million (which represented 45% of all traffic offenses). In 2014 by contrast, the number of citations for speeding had dropped a whopping 67% to 1.83 million, which represented just 19% of all traffic offenses.

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