By ATOM Legal Professional Corporation English speaking lawyers in Japan

There are severe penalties in Japan for drinking and driving. In 2007, Japan increased the severity of its punishments for drunk driving, moving toward a zero tolerance policy. Even someone who provides a vehicle to the person found to be drunk driving can be punished in the same fashion as the driver himself. What’s more, those adults who ride in the car with a drunk driver are also at risk of being punished for allowing the irresponsible behavior. Japan’s crack down on drunk driving means you should be very aware of the alcohol concentration limits enforced in Japan and the applicable punishments for drunk driving. Read on to learn more.

Legal limit for drunk driving

If you are pulled over in Japan and are found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.03 or above, you are considered legally intoxicated and guilty of drunk driving.

The criteria for driving under the influence of alcohol are 0.3mg in 1ml of blood or 0.15ml in 1L of breath.

If you drink and drive …

If you are found to be driving under the influence (DUI) in Japan you could face imprisonment or a substantial fine depending on the alcohol concentration in your body. A person driving a vehicle or streetcar (excluding a light road vehicle; the same applies hereafter) could face going to Japanese prison for not more than three years or a fine of not more than 500,000 yen for driving under the influence (Article of the Road Traffic Act). This applies to drivers with an alcohol concentration of over 0.15mg but less than 0.25mg in 1L of breath; this is considered driving under the influence.

If you are found to be driving while intoxicated (DWI), meaning a state that makes it likely for a person to be unable to drive normally* due to the influence of alcohol and having an alcohol concentration of over 0.25mg in 1L of breath, you could face imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one million yen (Article 117.2.1 of the Road Traffic Act). 

* “A state that makes it likely for a person to be unable to drive normally” is determined by alcohol concentration, ability to walk straight and ability to answer properly.

Alcohol concentration limit

According to Article 44.3 of the Order for Enforcement of the Road Traffic Act, The alcohol content of the body… shall be 0.3 milligrams per milliliter of blood or 0.15 milligrams per liter of breath. If you are found to exceed either of these limits you will be considered to be driving under the influence (DUI) or, more severely, driving while intoxicated (DWI) depending on how high your concentration is. 

Forms of punishment

If you are over the 0.03 limit, you could be sentenced up to five years in prison or subject to a fine up to $10,000 (1 million yen) depending on the concentration of alcohol in your body. Additionally, the passengers in the car will be prosecuted and fined for being irresponsible. The bar that served you could be fined for allowing you to drive as well.

See the table below for the forms of punishment as they relate to alcohol concentration in one liter of breath. These punishments include license suspension or revocation, imprisonment, fines, and license violation points. 

Alcohol concentration in 1L of breathPunishment
Over 0.15mg but less than 0.25mgLicense suspension for 90 days, imprisonment with work for no more than 3 years or a fine of no more than 500,000 yenLicense violation points: 13 points
Over 0.25mgCould lead to a revocation of your driving privileges for at least 2 years, imprisonment with work for no more than 5 years or a fine of no more than 1,000,000 yenLicense violation points: 25 points

Note: If a DUI or DWI incident results in an accident that causes injuries or death, the punishments become more severe. If you cause the injury of another person you will face Japanese prison time with work for up to 15 years, and in the case of causing a death you will face Japanese prison time with work for up to 20 years. If this happens, you will need to contact a car accident attorney.

If you are facing drunk driving charges…

You will need to contact an English-speaking lawyer to help you navigate the legal processes involved in a drunk driving case. Don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Especially being a foreigner in Japan, you need an expert on your side.

This page is intended to be used for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for obtaining professional legal advice.

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