By on February 26, 2014
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The Japan Times is reporting that a car driven by Japanese tourists had to be stopped with a spike strip after its driver failed to stop despite the fact she was being pursued by at least three patrol cars.

The car initially drew the attention of officers when it was spotted going less than 40mph on Interstate 15 near the Arizona-Utah border at around 1 a.m. last Saturday Morning. Suspecting a drunk driver, officers attempted to make a traffic stop but, instead of pulling over, the car accelerated to over 75 mph and began driving erratically. The chase lasted for approximately 7 miles ending only after police deployed a spike strip that destroyed three of the car’s tires.

With the car disabled at the side of the road, officers used their loudspeakers to order the occupant out and were surprised when a Japanese woman in her 40s emerged. Unable to speak English, she could not understand the officer’s instructions and proceeded to run back and forth in the street until officers physically grabbed the woman. While pulling the woman’s husband from the car, officers noticed the couple’s seven year old son in the back seat and realized the situation was not what it appeared to be. After realizing the family spoke almost no English, officers contacted a Japanese-speaking trooper elsewhere in the state who was able to defuse the situation.

The woman explained that she had no idea what to do when the police rolled in behind her and had initially accelerated in order to get out of their way. She also apologized for the crash, not realizing that her tires had actually been spiked in order to bring the chase to an end. The family, it turns out, had arrived in California on Friday and then rented a car in order to drive to Bryce Canyon. Once the situation was clear, officers took the family to a motel. There are no plans to press charges.

Generally, tourists are allowed to drive in foreign countries, although an International Driving Permit can be required. When I first went to Japan as a teacher back in 1999, I held one of these permits, obtained through AAA, that enabled me to drive overseas with the proviso that I held a valid US license. I used it without incident, including once during a traffic stop when I got popped hooning around on the motorcycle, for the entirety of the time I lived there. The rules of the road are not entirely the same, but there is enough similarity that people should be able to transition from one place to another without much difficulty.

Failing to understand that three police cars tailing you want you to pull over is ridiculous no matter what country you are from and this is a situation that could have ended badly for everyone involved. I think the officers of the Utah Highway Patrol deserve a great deal of praise for the way they ultimately handled the situation. They exhibited, I think, the highest level of professionalism. It’s nice when a story like this has a happy ending, good on them.

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80 Comments on “Japanese Tourists Spark Chase, Get Spiked...”


  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    When I read the story last night, elsewhere, the question that popped up in my mind was, “What was the probable cause” for pulling this car over? There is no minimum-speed limit posted on I-15 at that particular location. Been there many times myself, most recently last September.

    Which leads me to believe that in their diligence to serve the State the initial cop, and his backups, was just “focking with the motorists” hoping to find something untoward.

    Going slow is no reason to get pulled over. If that was the case, half to the drivers on the roads should get pulled over for driving too slow, while the other half should be cited for driving too fast.

    • 0 avatar
      wc1972

      A situation like this call for common senses. I have seen highways with minimum speed of 40 MPH, which I found to be reasonable. Because driving slowly on the highway slows down the traffic and is dangerous to this car and other cars as well.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        At 1 am? Hell, I’ve been on that stretch at 1 pm and it is pretty desolate there.

        Even more so at 1 am.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        You are correct. I think that it would be difficult to find a state vehicle code that didn’t include some sort of basic minimum speed safety law, just as there are basic speed laws that prohibit speeds that are too fast for conditions. Utah has such a statute: http://le.utah.gov/code/TITLE41/htm/41_06a060500.htm

        In addition, Utah also has a minimum 45 mph minimum speed limit on rural interstates. It sounds as if she was violating that requirement.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      I can’t comment for Utah, but in the states I’ve had to take licensing tests in all of them had a minimum interstate speed limit in the rule book, even if it wasn’t posted.

      I don’t know the speed limit on that section of highway in Utah, but I know they just raised, or are in the process of raising the speed limit to 80 MPH.

      Driving at less than half the speed limit at 1 AM on a Friday night (e.g. Saturday morning) erratically is probably cause enough for me to do a DWI stop.

      I’m with Derek on this one – stunning that she didn’t get the point and this could have gone south very, very, VERY fast.

    • 0 avatar
      Don Mynack

      My father-in-law once got a ticket for driving too slow. He deserved it, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Francois

      When someone starts talking about “probable cause” in relation to a traffic stop, you know they are getting their legal education from Law and Order.

      The standard for a traffic stop is “reasonable suspicion.” Driving slowly and weaving certainly falls within that framework. The bar for reasonable suspicion is pretty low. If I saw that on a roadway at 1am, the first thing I would think is DUI, and I would definitely be pulling them over. If I’m wrong, it’s “have a nice night.” If I’m right, I’ve made the road safer. Sounds like a good trade-off to me.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “When someone starts talking about ‘probable cause’ in relation to a traffic stop, you know they are getting their legal education from Law and Order. The standard for a traffic stop is ‘reasonable suspicion.’”

        Indeed. We could avoid a lot of drama if people would figure this out. Fourth Amendment rights in the car are fairly limited.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Francois, FYI my #2 son was a CHiP for 12 years in the SoCal area and also taught at the Academy before moving on to bigger and better things with the US Govt.

        In this instance, probable cause is the “reason” for someone driving too slowly, while reasonable suspicion relates to “assuming” the driver is under the influence.

        I ran your comment by both my son and a member of our family who is a practicing attorney in the State of Wyoming and am relaying how it was explained to me.

        While cops have a wide leeway for pulling someone over while driving, driving too slow is a judgment call since 18 wheelers often drive too slow, as do other drivers unfamiliar with a road or area.

        Everything else is just “focking with the motorists”, a term widely used among cops patrolling the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      Hillman

      When I had to take driving school they had a list of the ways that cops identify drunk drivers. The biggest ways to identify impaired drivers were driving too slow, having the windows down when it is cold, and not being able to maintain their speed. Glad common sense won and there was no arrest but this seems like a case where this person should not have been on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      galanwilliams

      Driving so slowly as to impede traffic is illegal in Utah, and most states, but the issue here, as you said, is probable cause to initiate a stop. I think that driving at half the posted speed limit, late at night, with presumably no weather or traffic reasons to do so, would lead to a reasonable suspicion that SOMETHING was wrong – impaired driver, defective vehicle, something out of the ordinary. So I think the stop was reasonable – especially since most traffic would be coming along at 80 MPH and it IS dangerous to come up on a vehicle going 40MPH slower unexpectedly, at night, when most drivers are probably sleepy or impaired or otherwise not paying as much attention as they would be during rush hour.

      I agree that this could have ended much worse in many ways. And I am truly sympathetic with the Japanese family – it’s heart pounding enough to see blue lights in MY rear-view, and I know the routine. For them, I’m sure it was horrifying. I’m glad all ended relatively well!

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I am certain that this will be a topic covered at staff meetings, Trooper assemblies and the Academy since the Dispatch/Shift Controller must always be notified before a traffic stop is made.

        It may even be a briefing item for all future tourists who anticipate driving in the US while visiting.

        The cops in NM however are not as charitable as elsewhere and have been known to shoot people dead first and worrying about asking questions later. Our state laws allow it when a trooper feels threatened. Plenty of precedence here too.

        These Japanese tourists were indeed lucky. This could have gone nasty ,quickly, like some traffic stops did in NM.

  • avatar
    Roader

    “The car initially drew the attention of officers when it was spotted going less than 40mph on Interstate 15 near the Arizona-Utah border at around 1 a.m. last Saturday Morning.”

    The speed limit is 50 or 55mph through the Virgin River Canyon, so they weren’t going all that slow. A few steep grades have me passing trucks going 35mph on that northbound stretch of interstate.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Anything can be attention worthy nowadays and being out at 1AM is most certainly one of them. While I applaud the USP for going easy on them, the onus is still on the driver and language barrier or not, you pull the f**k over when the flashing lights don’t go away. If another motorist was hurt or Devil forbid, a motorcyclist was hit, she would be taken to another kind of hotel. At the same time, I hear Bryce Canyon is beautiful at night :) .

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      The tourists lied.

      Nowhere do you nearly double your speed to “get out of their way” of police officers.

      I’m very forgiving of confusion, but in this case I have no sympathy.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Generally, tourists are allowed to drive in foreign countries, although an International Driving Permit can be required.”

    Interestingly enough, the US doesn’t require the IDP. Florida tried to mandate them, and learned this the hard way: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/02/3319668/florida-u-turns-on-international.html

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I was disappointed that they repealed this. Florida sees thousands of Quebecois come down every winter for the warm weather and cheap real estate, and many have little to no knowledge or interest in the English language. Couple that with the fact that the Quebec government insists on issuing licenses written only in French, despite being completely surrounded by English-speaking provinces and states, and I think Florida’s decision to require a translated license was a reasonable one, and a welcome push against Quebec’s assertion that they’re special snowflakes deserving of 300 million people adapting to their unique language on this continent.

      Before anyone says anything: I’m a born-in-Montreal Quebecois.

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        It might not have been such a great issue had the attempt at requiring the IDP not have been a sudden, surprise move that took effect practically the instant it was proclaimed, thus trapping Canadian citizens already in Florida without an IDP and with no way to get one.

        Also, for consistency, either the whole USA should require an IDP, or the whole USA should waive the requirement for IDP if the original licensee is from Canada. The procedure shouldn’t have regional differences.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The underlying intent of the law was to target illegal aliens, i.e. Mexicans. They sort of forgot about the Canadians and Brits who flock to Florida like white on rice.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        One big difference between driving in Quebec vs driving in the continental U.S. is that you can’t turn right on a read light but you can go straight through… wait, that’s pretty much true for a lot of Florida too, hmmm

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Right turn on red is illegal only on the island of Montreal. Right turn on red is legal elsewhere in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

          NYC doesn’t allow it, either.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            whoooooosh…. it was a joke…. never mind

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I don’t see the joke. Scientists proved long ago that Floridians are the worst drivers on the continent.

            Still, there is the matter of the right turn on red…

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            You brought up bad driving- you’re so close to getting the joke! ;)

            I chose the word “can’t” instead of “not allowed” in regards to right turn on red… aw, never mind.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            I got the joke, JimC2. Having driven in France, I noticed back there that if it’s late at night and there’s no cross traffic, the French WILL go straight through rather than wait for the red light to change. Apparently that attitude goes with the language. A French friend I was visiting thought Americans are too obedient if they wait at a red light and nobody’s coming the other way. I made it a point to be very cautious at intersections when I had a green light.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        One would presume that they’d drive pretty slowly given that speeds in the US are posted in MPH.

        Or do they not turn their nose up at English in that situation? :)

        • 0 avatar

          Fortunately, the numbers on the speedometer are calibrated to match the signs. The only hard time I have driving with the metric system is estimating the amount of time to my exit.

          If the sign says one mile, I know that at 60mph I have about one minute, but if I am cruising at 100 kph and I get an exit 1 km ahead I’m still working out the math when I whiz right on by.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      I am not sure, but I think the IDP exemption in the Florida case only applies if the original license is Canadian. If your original drivers license is from elsewhere in the world, it is another matter.

      Neither the USA or Canada are contracting parties of the Vienna convention on road traffic … otherwise, our traffic signs and rules would be more consistent with the rest of the world.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The repeal of the Florida law applies to everyone.

        The US did sign the 1949 convention. But treaties are a federal, not a state, matter. It isn’t Florida’s place to get involved in the treaty interpretation business.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          The 1949 convention could have been signed but not ratified. It’s true that states have some independence, but the feds operate on the “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules” principle. A state can ignore sign standards, but they may not get any of their gas tax money back, or sewage treatment upgrade grants, or law enforcement grants, or unemployment compensation repayment, etc. Just don’t call it extortion – only individuals can do that.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    Smart money says that if this happened in CA they would be getting fined up to the wazoo and possibly arrested. Because they don’t screw around when it comes to revenue in CA.

  • avatar
    wsn

    How do they stop cars in Japan?

    Would Japanese cars just ignore police cars with flashing sirens?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a good question. In many cases Japanese patrol cars cruise with their red lights on all the time. Unless they pull in behind you and direct you to stop via their loudspeaker they aren’t doing anything more than just driving around.

      Additionally, Japanese police cars don’t use blue lights. There’s a good chance that she didn’t even understand what that color meant. Lots of Japanese vehicles use flashing lights, garbage trucks, for example use a flashing green or blue to make motorists aware of their presence.

      The way the police conduct the stop may be different too. I have been stopped twice, once on the bike and once in a car, and in both cases I remained in/on the vehicle like I would in an American traffic stop. I’m not sure, but in some cases I believe Japanese people actually get out of their car and meet the officer – if they do, it seems like a good way to get killed.

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        That being said, you have to be astonishingly thick to think that speeding up to get out of their way is a good idea. Especially given that speed limits in Japan are generally well-adhered to.

        All credit to the USP, I think this lady was shockingly lacking in common sense.

        • 0 avatar

          Lacking common sense is fairly common. When I lived in NorCal, we once had a “slow speed police chase” when two old women were going to a church meeting and didn’t stop. They arrived to their church with 3 police cruisers in tow and made the town newspaper. This was before Boener and shooting at women at minivans as you understand, but not in ancient history. 2003 or so IIRC.

      • 0 avatar

        In New Mexico, all sorts of odd vehicles use colored strobe lights and it’s unclear which is police and which is not (I’m sure it’s going to amuse Principal Dan, but it really is very confusing). In California it’s simple: tow trucks and construction trucks use yellow and only yellow.

        • 0 avatar
          Steve65

          In California, Yellow is “work truck”, all red is Fire or Ambulance, and red and blue is Police. These days anyways. ISTR back in my bronze-age childhood police using only red as well. Whatever the vehicle, red forward is a command to pull to the right and stop.

          • 0 avatar

            I think it makes a lot of sense to have this sort of color system, even if color-blind drivers cannot make use of it. It’s not like the color-blind are at any particular disadvantage versus a state not mandating separate colors, right?

      • 0 avatar
        Brawndo

        I think it must have been pretty clear to her that she wasn’t being chased by a garbage truck or three. Also, I’m going to guess that the Utah Highway Patrol were using their sirens and yelling on their PAs. Whatever color the lights may have been, do sirens ever not mean pull over?

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      It’s entirely possible that the police car signals were unfamiliar to them. For example, I’m not from the USA. I’ve noticed that in USA, police often use flashing blue lights without anything else. In Ontario, up until about 6 or 7 years ago, flashing blue lights were reserved for snow removal equipment, and although your interests are best served if you get out of the way of a snow plow, you don’t have to pull over for it!

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “The car initially drew the attention of officers when it was spotted going less than 40mph on Interstate 15 near the Arizona-Utah border at around 1 a.m. last Saturday Morning.”

    Japan is metric. Sounds like they were doing 60 km/h (37 mph) instead of 60 mph. Japan is also right hand drive. That probably added to the confusion.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      I would think that the big numbers on the speedo would be a big hint about which speed rules are applicable.

      Japan’s highest limit is 100 km/h, and in many cases, nobody is driving at anywhere near that speed. I would presume that it just didn’t occur to her that she should be driving any faster.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Lost in the translation…

    Anyways, I’m with you Tom. This one had a happy ending, but could have ended worse, far worse.

  • avatar
    Waterview

    Sorry, but I have no sympathy for those who can’t take the time to be rudimentally informed before they get behind the wheel. Not understanding the rules makes them a hazard to others. You’re a guest in our country – act like it and I’ll do the same when I’m in yours.

  • avatar
    msquare

    After seeing so many stories of crazy-psycho-trigger-happy cops, I’m glad to see that some of them still have their wits about them.

    I’m also willing to bet the Japanese-speaking cop explained to his colleagues how Japanese cops operate, making the situation a little more understandable.

    The driver being a middle-aged Asian lady probably helped as well. Anyone looking more intimidating regardless of race would have drawn a more aggressive response.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    When i was last in Utah I don’t think I went under 85 on my trip through that weird stretch of country.40 will get you pulled over, when I passed the troopers I waved and they back…It’s seemed like a symbol of don’t mind me im not carrying any illegals.

  • avatar
    Silent Ricochet

    Ignorance is not an excuse to break the law. Unfortunately, a lot of foreigners visit this country and think just that. I work in an extremely busy Outdoor Shopping mall in South East, New York and this is all too apparent. The driving situation here is already hectic and dangerous. 90% of the consumers that we have visit this location are foreigners from Asia or Brazil. A solid majority of them are completely incompetent and lack any kind of common sense. Imagining them behind the wheel makes me sick.

    The driving situation in the immediate area is already hectic and dangerous. Recently an employee that I graduated with from High School was killed walking to his store on his way to work. They all rent massive Luxury SUVs and command the road with their blatant disregard for their safety or others. There’s a handful of big accidents here a week and it’s almost always the foreigners that aren’t familiar enough with our roadways. I always wondered how they were allowed to just fly to our country and hop in a car and drive away. Really mind blowing.I may sound a little Xenophobic, but that’s not what I’m going for here. Requiring an IDP would be a stellar idea. Unfortunately, It’ll never happen because it’d stifle commerce in NYC and the Hudson Valley area.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      An IDP merely translates a license into numerous languages. Getting one simply requires a trip to the auto club in ones respective country, along with some passport photos and a bit of money — there is no test involved. Having one or not having one doesn’t say anything about your driving skills or courtesy.

      • 0 avatar
        Brawndo

        The Japan Times article this story came from didn’t say anything about whether the woman had an IDP, it did say “Horne said the couple didn’t have Japanese driver’s licenses with them.” You’d think she’d have both, or at least a Japanese driver’s license. How did they even rent a car here?

        • 0 avatar

          That’s a great question. I cannot imagine how they could have rented a car without at least showing their Japanese license.

          Years ago I visited Hawaii from Japan and my WA license was expired. I decided I wanted to rent a Harley to cruise around for a day and the person at the rental actually knew enough about the Japanese license that he was able to see I held an unmlimited motorcycle license. If a guy at a little Waikiki bike rental stand could tell something as detailed as thag, why couldn’t someone at a California car rental place take the time to verify they had their licenses? Seems fishy to me.

          • 0 avatar

            I rented from Avis in California with a Russian license, although to be sure Russians drive on the right side of the road and it Russian DL is internationalized (I do not recall it it means English or French in addition to Russian script).

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Unless the car was rented on their behalf, it’s reasonable to assume that either the cop or the writer of the article was mistaken.

    • 0 avatar
      daver277

      I don’t know what is required in Asia or Brazil but in Canada, getting an IDP is strictly a paperchase ending with a $25 or $30 payment.
      Most people here view an IDP as fear-mongering by the local auto club and don’t get one. I know many drivers who drive the world over without an IDP and have no problems (including myself).

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Some countries are more stringent about them than others.

        They can also be useful for car rental, as they provide a bit more comfort to the agency that the license isn’t fake.

        On the whole, it’s wise to get one when traveling outside of North America, particularly in those countries in which English is not the native language. (For example, I needed one in order to rent a car in Spain.) No need to bother with one for a quick trip to Canada or Mexico.

      • 0 avatar

        IDP is required in Japan, at least if you rent from Hertz (subcontracted by Toyota), Hondarent, or Nippon-Rent-A-Car. Speaking from experience they verify it, and their websites warn that you need it.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “Ignorance is not an excuse to break the law.”

      How about making a law that’s explicit and doesn’t give room to ignorance? Like … a foreign driver should go through a written test and a road test (just like any American driver) before allowed to drive?

      Sure, it’s an extra 3 hours and $200 probably. But that’s a fair price for safety.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Aside from violating an interational treaty to which the US is a party, destroying the American tourism industry and inviting tit-for-tat retaliation against Americans by pretty much every other country in the world, that sounds like a great idea.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I agree that we should give the cops a gold star for their handling of this one.

    I have no knowledge of what this lady was told when she and her family booked a trip to the U.S. with none of theme speaking English and then decided to rent a car to drive somewhere. I’d like to think that someone in her home country said that would be a really dumb idea.

    We’re fortunate in that English is widely spoken around the world. I speak French and Spanish, which makes me serviceable in Italy and Portugal. But I would really think twice about driving in, say, Greece or any other country that does not use the Roman alphabet. For me, driving in Japan would be absolutely out of the question.

    Fortunately, this ended o.k. The driver was obviously uncomfortable driving on a freeway, had zero understanding of U.S. traffic laws or police procedures and probably paniced when the police cars surrounded her. When people panic, the lose common sense, which, in this case, would have been to have pulled off the road and come to a stop.

    • 0 avatar
      Brawndo

      Woah! If you ever have the opportunity to drive in Japan, you should do it. First, you don’t need to speak Japanese to do it-highway signs have a Roman alphabet translation on them and you can figure out the traffic signs. Second, and most importantly, the roads are magnificent, curvy and if you get out of the city, extraordinarily scenic. The drivers (with the exception of certain bumpkins they send to Utah) are much better than in the rest of the world, so it’s a much easier experience than driving in say, Atlanta.

      • 0 avatar
        izzy

        “Bumpkins” about explains it. Who, in his/her right mind would speed up to get out of the way! How about simply pulling over. Just a Japanese version of a bad driver. I suspect if it was any other driver from Japan, chances are, this wouldn’t happen.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          You might consider the possibility that enforcement practices are very different in Japan.

          American cops are aggressive and tend to enforce by running patrols, while the Japanese cops are (reportedly) more polite and often operate checkpoints.

          If my understanding is correct, the Japanese generally pull you over by standing in front of you in the road and waving you over to the side, not by using cars to “light you up” from behind.

  • avatar
    redliner

    People who have been to Japan or some Latin American countries will know that police in these places routinely run with ALL their emergency lights activated ALL the time. They NEVER, turn them off, even when they are just cruising around doing nothing in particular.

    It is possible she really didn’t know that she was expected to pull over.

  • avatar
    Atum

    What car was she driving, out of curiosity? I can’t find the type of car anywhere.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    If you don’t understand our driving laws, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

    They should have been ticketed for what they did.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I live in FL, the land of the tourist driver. And I will be the first to say it, man do I hate the snowbirds and tourist drivers, they are a hazard!

    But I can completely sympathize with this family, I see it happen all the time. They arrive in a strange country, they don’t know where they are going, they are already stressed and tired, its easy to get confused over something like this. Add in the fact that the Japanese tourists seem to be a little nervous behind the wheel anyways and I am sure she was being honest about the situation.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Not to mention that she was driving a left-hand-drive car in the US while she was used to a right-hand-drive car in Japan.

      I went a little weird too when I first drove a rental while visiting in merry old England after coming from Germany where I was stationed. Scary!


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