Vehicle documentation 101: what you need to drive in Okinawa

by Airman 1st Class Zade C. Vadnais, 18th Wing Public Affairs
Kadena Air Base

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- With the exception of those arriving from the United Kingdom, personnel new to Japan have a lot to get used to when they get behind the wheel. They now sit on the opposite side of the car, drive on the opposite side of the road and often mistake their turn signal lever for their windshield wiper lever.

There are also several changes when it comes to the documents required to operate a vehicle on Kadena. While proof of insurance and vehicle registration suffice in the U.S., Status of Forces Agreement personnel are required to keep seven separate documents up-to-date, or run the risk of a suspended license or impounded vehicle.

In addition to their SOFA license, SOFA status drivers are required to keep their Japanese car title, military registration, Government of Japan inspection decal, Japanese Compulsory Insurance, Property Damage Insurance and road tax receipt and decal in their vehicle at all times.

"Maintaining current documents will save you in the long run in the event of a traffic accident or stop," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Matthew Heck, 18th Security Forces Squadron Join Service Vehicle Registration clerk. Keeping the necessary documents up-to-date and on-hand are simple ways to abide by Air Force and Kadena Air Base Instruction 31-218.

Military registration papers are issued by the Vehicle Registration office on Camp Foster, and are translations of a vehicle's Japanese title. Original copies of both documents must remain inside the vehicle at all times. Drivers with expired registration will receive three points on their SOFA license, and drivers with expired road tax will receive three points and a 30 day impoundment.

GOJ inspection decals are small yellow or blue square stickers that need to be centered at the top of the vehicle's windshield. Like most of the documents listed, the expiration date on GOJ inspection decals reads year, month, day, and the year is coded. If a decal says 26 in the year spot, it expires in 2014, if it says 27, it expires in 2015 and so on.

Unlike most paperwork, which expires the first of a certain month, GOJ inspections expire on a specific day, and it isn't always the first or last of the month.

JCI papers and PDI, or "American insurance," papers are usually found in a plastic sleeve, and should remain in the vehicle at all times. Expired JCI or PDI can earn drivers anywhere from three points to six points, impoundment and a one month suspension of their SOFA license depending on how overdue their renewal is.

Everyone on Okinawa pays their road tax around the same time each year. Road tax is an annual fee that varies based on engine size and must be paid no later than the first of June. The receipt must be kept in the vehicle and the decal must be displayed on the upper portion of the windshield.

Racking up 12 points within 12 consecutive months will revoke a driver's SOFA license for six months, while receiving 15 points within 12 consecutive months or 18 points within 24 consecutive months will earn drivers a one year revocation. Points assessed against a person will remain on their license for 24 months.

Although traffic accidents are inconvenient and at times dangerous, they can be handled much more smoothly if the people involved have all of the necessary paperwork. Following related AFIs and KABIs keeps drivers safe, keeps points off of SOFA licenses and keeps vehicles out of the impound lot.

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