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‘Talk and Drive’ now costs drivers big bucks

Date Posted: 2004-11-05

A cell phone glued to your ear will now cost you money if you’re driving Okinawa’s streets.

Long an unauthorized activity on bases, Okinawa’s civilian police agencies have launched a crackdown on motor vehicle drivers trying to navigate the traffic while talking on a cell phone. The November 1st change to Japanese traffic law makes it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving. The penalty is a maximum ¥50,000 ($480) fine.

Police say the standard penalty is now ¥5,000 for a motorcyclist talking on the phone, ¥6,000 for an automobile driver, and ¥7,000 for a truck. There is also a loss of one traffic point on the driver’s record. Failure to pay the listed fine will result in the additional ¥50,000 fine.

Enforcement began nationwide Monday, with police task forces watching and pulling over hundreds of cars to issue tickets. The initial day’s crackdown focused on 26 locations in Okinawa Prefecture, mostly in busy aras. Fifty-six drivers were busted.

Police say there were too many people driving while using cell phones, even though they knew they shouldn’t be. The police definition is that using a cell phone or reading email for more than two seconds is a violation.

Although being discouraged by authorities, it is still legal to use a hands-free headset connected to a cellphone. The earpiece and microphone plugged into the cell phone allows its use while the drive continues to have hands on the steering wheel.

Police and the cellular phone companies are encouraging drivers, though, not to use the cell phone at all. Instead, cell phone companies are reminding their customers to use the answering service feature that’s a part of the telephone.

Earphone-microphone units for cell phones are a nominal ¥600~¥2,500, depending on quality and acoustic features. Urasoe City Autobucks’ new Machinato Shop says it’s sold triple the amount of earpiece units in the past month as before.

Commercial operators are scrambling to protect their drivers, too. OAS cargo companies reports it has purchased more than 150 earphones for its employees. A company official says “we spent over ¥150,000 for the safety of our drivers.”

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