Drive defensively to mitigate risk
For many military and civilian personnel, the first time they travel on the roadways of Okinawa is from the airport to the hotel. Almost immediately, one realizes that defensive, and in some instances offensive, driving techniques need to be used.
From motor scooters weaving through traffic, to multiple vehicles failing to stop at a red light, a simple trip can become a dangerous situation if proper precautions are not taken.
While the island is only 72 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest point, it has approximately 1 million vehicles and 50,000 motorcycles and scooters. With this massive amount of traffic in such close proximity, it takes a skilled operator to navigate safely among it.
To obtain a U.S. Forces Japan operator’s permit from the Installation Safety Office, individuals must pass a written exam, view the “Drive Safe” video, complete the proper paperwork, and attend the newcomers’ orientation brief. Receiving a permit does not mean you are now an expert at driving in Japan; rather you have met the minimum requirements for operating a motor vehicle here. However, one must keep in mind that status of forces agreement drivers
are categorized as professional drivers by the government of Japan as soon as they obtain an operator’s permit.
Being a professional driver means being held to a higher standard than non-SOFA operators. Depending on the situation, a SOFA member may be more liable in an accident. While this is a big responsibility, it is very easy to prepare for your daily travels on the island.
Every day when you wake up and turn on the light, you are implementing risk management. This carries over when you get in your vehicle and prepare to drive.
Tasks such as putting on a seatbelt, adjusting the mirrors, seat and steering wheel set the stage for safe driving on Okinawa. Before you begin driving, think about your route and plan for the unexpected. Inspect your vehicle to ensure it is in good operating condition. These steps will help mitigate the chance of the vehicle breaking down amid your travels.
As you depart, ensure you are looking at events six to 12 seconds ahead of your vehicle, while also paying attention to what is directly in front of you. This will allow you to anticipate actions of other vehicles, pedestrians and moving and stationary objects.
Safely navigating the roadways and traffic of Okinawa is quite simple once you become accustomed to local driving conditions. With prior planning and incorporating risk management into your daily travel plans, you are on your way to successfully travelling around the island.
By embracing the driving culture and integrating the above driving tips, your time here can be full of memorable adventures.
Davis is the supervisory occupational safety and health specialist for the Installation Safety Office, Marine Corps Installations Pacific and Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler.