Stronger penalties for drivers using mobile phones behind the wheel took effect in Japan on Sunday in the wake of an outcry from families who lost loved ones in traffic accidents caused by such drivers.
Under the revised traffic control law, drivers distracted by mobile phones face higher fines, a threefold increase in driving penalty points and longer imprisonment.
In 2018, there were 2,790 accidents linked to drivers distracted by smartphones, of which 42 were fatal, an increase by about 2.3 times in 10 years.
Under stricter regulations, penalty points for drivers caught speaking on or otherwise using their mobile phones have been increased from one point to three points, while in instances where others were endangered six points instead of two are imposed.
Fines have been raised to 25,000 yen ($227) from 7,000 yen for cases involving large cars, to 18,000 yen from 6,000 yen for standard-sized cars, to 15,000 yen from 6,000 yen for motorbikes and to 12,000 yen from 5,000 yen for motorcycles with 50cc engines or less.
Repeat offenders could face prison sentences of up to six months or fines of up to 100,000 yen.
Unlike in the past, those whose smartphone use endangered others can immediately be held criminally liable. If charged, they will face a harsher penalty of either a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine of up to 300,000 yen, compared with a prison sentence of up to three months or a fine of up to 50,000 yen before.