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Driving in Japan (Nara prefecture) as a tourist, I noticed that while the speed limits are generally very low, at least for my German feeling, nearly everyone seems to do at least some degree of speeding. On a curvy mountain road clearly marked with a 30 sign (all units kph), people were driving between 45 and 50. On a motorway with a small 70 speed limit sign mounted high on the left side, people were driving 100 to 120 in the right lane. Is speeding widely tolerated in Japan or am I misunderstanding the speed limits?

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  • If I could read Japanese I would have posted an answer. I found this 'Although there is no official tolerance for exceeding the speed limit, most drivers in Japan tend to drive over the speed limit on major roads.' However its sources are written in Japanese. It does suggest there isn't a cultural attitude against speeding though.
    – Dustybin80
    Apr 20, 2023 at 10:58

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TL;DR: Yes, it's common, but exceeding the limit by more than 10 km/h risks getting stopped and fined by the police.

Japanese speed limits are indeed very low: the kind of straight, wide country road in Hokkaido that would have a limit of 100 in Australia will be 50, and even grade-separated expressways can go as low as 80. (Then again, hair-raising twisty mountain roads will be 40 throughout when in Australia every other hairpin bend would be plastered with 20 km/h recommended speed warnings.) A theory I've heard advanced is that Japanese police have targets that strongly incentivize reducing highway fatalities, and lacking other levers they constantly and often successfully lobby to reduce limits.

What this means in practice is that many people speed. Speeding fines only start at 10 km/h over the limit, meaning that exceeding the limit by less than 10 km/h, while technically illegal, is usually ignored. At the other end, getting caught speeding over 30 km/h above the limit can result in formal charges and immediate license suspension.

So if/when people speed, they tend to do so in the 10-30 km/h over band, no more. However, speed traps are quite common and typically operated by a team where one officer hides in a bush with a speed gun and their buddies catch the offenders down the road, meaning that by the time you see the police cars, it's too late. If caught, expect hefty fines (tens of thousands of yen) and demerit points if you have a Japanese license.

In my experience, it's best to go with the flow: drive at the same speed as all the other normal drivers (not the hotheads in the right lane), slow down when they do (the regulars know where the cops lurk), and you'll be fine. As always your mileage may vary.

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    And of course be sensible where you speed. Going 30 km/h over on a highway is different than going 30 km/h over in the school zone with a posted 20 km/h sign.
    – Zibelas
    Apr 21, 2023 at 8:59
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    But if you are a tourist you are not in a hurry and you want to see the surrounding area, so maybe go bicycling or walking instead of following the car brain advice of speeding as much as the regulars do who know how the system works. An expensive speeding ticket sucks way more when you are on holiday, and police everywhere pay more attention to foreign(ers) vehicles.
    – user127796
    Apr 21, 2023 at 13:52
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    @LeeC. government.nl/binaries/medium/content/gallery/rijksoverheid/… Which one of these people is the Dutch ambassador for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality?
    – user127796
    Apr 21, 2023 at 15:06
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    @LeeC. To answer the original question: My rental car had no special features whatsoever (not even a sticker). I don't think the police can tell just by looking at the car.
    – nanash1
    Apr 22, 2023 at 21:40
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    @nanash1 Rental cars have a わ on the number plate next to the numbers. Apr 26, 2023 at 10:49

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