Well, it finally happened. Despite the numerous times that I struck my car against such mundane things as rocks, curbs, and poles, I finally landed a blow against another vehicle. My frequent forays down the wrong side of the road as I got used to driving on the opposite side suggested that this first one would be cataclysmic, but alas, it was quite to the contrary. Here, I write not to boast of my talents behind the wheel, but to compare and contrast a procedure with which I am well accustomed to in other parts of the world.
In this instance, I was driving right along with traffic when someone suddenly hit the brakes ahead of me. The wet conditions left me unable to bring my Tinker Toy of a car to halt. I collided and then we had to pull over and get things going. While my car took some cosmetic damage to the hood and previously damaged front fender (owing largely to the shoddy tin foil construction I’m sure) the other party had absolutely nothing more than a dented license plate.
We pulled over and when we got out the woman claimed immediately that her shoulder hurt. That was a lie. It was very obviously so. She was also being rather unpleasant, though her husband seemed alright when he showed up. After a while a couple of officers showed and started with their line of questioning. Trusty Makita came too and helped to translate some of what they were saying, since my Japanese was insufficient at dealing with these technical legals terms and such.
This was the extent of the damange.
They asked the normal questions about how it happened so that they could get the police report filed. After those, we spent an eternity (at least an hour) working through an additional list of four questions where I had to identify what went wrong. I spelled out how such factors as the wet roads, her stopping quickly, and the distance between cars were all relevant, but I couldn’t pick one in particular that caused the accident. This questionnaire was supposedly optional, but they just wouldn’t let it go. After a while, they sent in an entire van load of reinforcements to explain the same simple questions I understood completely and had been grappling with for the past 45 minutes. In the end my frustration gave way and I just told them to pick one of those reasons, that I didn’t care. In the end, the reconstructed drawing and sequence of events that they presented to me was quite unlike how it actually unfolded, but I was just happy to have it over with. While this was all going on, I was also subjected to a breathalyzer test. My passenger may have given the impression that we had come from an alcohol laden environment… I came up clean though, which is good, since their zero tolerance policy would have crushed me with fines, and deportation. Also, as an employee of the government, it would have looked particularly bad.
The reason why I was being so obstinate during the questioning is because of how their insurance system works. Immediately after the accident both parties have to call their respective insurance providers and let them know about the event, so there is no such thing as hiding even the small bumps and bruises from the insurance company. The two providers will then negotiate what percentage of fault each party had in the accident, which determines how much is paid for the repairs. In this case I was completely at fault, so my company paid for all of her ‘repairs’. Now this is the reason that her feigning injury comes into play. Every time she goes to the hospital, my insurance company pays her some additional sum of money. There is a lot room for lies and corruption here.
In a more extreme case, Makita was telling me about an incident she experienced earlier. While edging forward to pull out, she nicked a car passing by. Of course the police had come and do their whole song and dance, but the other person claimed not only an injury, but also trauma. The police officer questioned how that could possibly by true, their was neigh a scratch on the car and no real force of impact. The victim insisted on it though, saw a doctor 14 times, and even claimed that he could not continue working at his job, all to great financial benefit. I hope these people settle up their karma in future accidents.
While it was a frustrating process start to finish, after the SWAT team left, I figured that I came out of it alright. Despite my piece of crap car finding a new way to look worse, it still drives well enough. I probably couldn’t even give it away at this point, so I intend to make no investment in it beyond oil and gas until it dies or I do. Also, since my company picks up whatever medical bills she can conjure, and I don’t plan to re-up my policy again, it looks to remain a complete non-issue. In the off, but welcome chance that someone pulls out in front of me, I hope to get my car patched up or replaced.
One other thing that typically happens after accidents in Japan is that the guilty person would make a couple house calls to check on the well being of the victim. Small presents to compensate for the inconvenience would not be uncommon either. After any incident, I much prefer never to see the other party again, and I made it very clear that I was only going to have the insurance company take care of things on my end. I can always just play the foreigner card and get away with ignoring such useless formalities anyway. All in all, it was a fairly painless, albeit frustrating, learning experience that I am pleased to have put behind me.