What to do in the case of a traffic accident in Japan
Returning from Karuizawa last night, my Ninja had a very intimate experience with a tank truck. Crossroad crash happened due to larger number of bikers taking off from the beginning of the queue in front of a tanker. Being last in the biker group to take off, and being slow doing so, the overworked driver that was just returning home from a long work trip around Honshu didn't see me at all. His window was too high, and my bike was too close to him, that when he first hit me, he didn't even realize there's a person (on a bike) front of him. He stopped for a moment after hearing a pop, then confidently stepped on the gas again and gave my Ninja a strong second direct hit. Luckily, 2 metal rods framing the back of the bike prevented a disaster and even kept my winkers safe while my Ninja entered and stayed in truck's grill, preventing any further damage. The van was high, therefore the tires slid under tanker's front. Without proper gear (helmet and full Dainese leather suit) this would have not ended nicely. While I'm waiting for a checkup at the hospital with Kazuto stuck on the phone handling accident-associated matters, the experience is still fresh. I'm taking this opportunity to write the accident handling essentials, hoping no one will ever need to read this blog post...
I was lucky to have Kazuto by my side at the accident site and that the truck driver was such a nice and sweet person. Kazuto stopped as soon as he heard the smash and managed everything, from pulling the bike out of the truck to managing details with police and the insurance company. As he did all the work, I sat by the side of the road like a princess, accompanied by a friendly traffic inspector who used to be a motorcycle policeman (白バイ). I would not have been able to handle this situation smoothly without Kazuto for sure.
In case of an accident, this is how it's done in Japan:
- In case of an injury, call an ambulance first (救急車 "kyuukyuusha"), or ask someone to call an ambulance (救急車を呼んでください "kyuukyuusha o yonde kudasai") at 119. If there are no serious injuries, skip this step and:
- Call the police (警察 "keisatsu"), or ask someone to call the police (警察を呼んでください "keisatsu o yonde kudasai") at 110. When police arrives, they will also ask if anyone needs immediate medical attention, and will call an ambulance if needed. The police will ask you to present your drivers license (運転免許証 "menkyoshou") and bike registration documents (自賠責車検証 "jibaisekisha kenshou"). The latter is not mandatory, as they can access your bike details, but if you have them at hand, it is helpful.
- The police and traffic inspector will assess which party caused the accident. The "victim" will be asked whether they want to take a legal action against the person who caused the accident. If the "victim" wants to sue the person who caused the accident, all parties will be taken to the police station to file a detailed report. In the case of my accident, they asked me if I want to sue the tanker driver and get compensation for the accident. I certainly chose not to, and the police told me I can still change my mind and file a complaint a few days later.
- Call your insurance company (保険会社 "hokenkaisha") and explain you had an accident (事故 "jiko"). If you have trouble communicating the situation in Japanese, as the policeman to help you and talk to your insurance. For this purpose, always keep the insurance phone number close to you during the rides.
- Check the condition of your bike and arrange a tow truck (レッカー車の手配 "rekkāsha no tehai") if needed. It is usually good to keep the number of the tow truck at hand in case you need it. We have a "regular tow guy" (called twice so far) that has been awesome. Here's his card:
- Call your moto shop and arrange a repair (if needed). The insurance company will arrange the details regarding payment, but you will need to bring the bike to the shop and arrange the repair on your own. We bought our bikes from SOX Bikers Station and they will arrange a repair and coordinate with the insurance company of the truck that hit me.
- Arrange a safe return home. If you were not injured and the bike hasn't suffered any serious damage, make sure to check all lights, winkers, tires, break and clutch before taking off. Police will assist you in case you need help getting home safely.
- Not mandatory, but recommended: Exchange contact details with all parties involved in the accident. Police will take everyone's details, but it's good to have names and numbers of all individuals affected by this occurrence.
- Note that you will not receive any document regarding the accident. Details will be sent to you via post once the case is processed at the main police station. This will probably take a few weeks.
The following days (or even weeks), you will be busy arranging details with the insurance company, medical centers and bike repair shop. In my case, the insurance of the tank truck driver's company is covering all costs, as they assessed that the tanker caused the accident. Kazuto took a day off and is stuck on the phone the whole day, busy as it gets. If you're not fluent in Japanese, you will need help of a native speaker that truly loves you, as this is a huge favor to ask... Every step (bike repair, medical care) will have to be reported and confirmed by the insurance company in order to get a coverage, without skipping any details. And because it's Japan, it's a long and tiring process...
Respond to all follow-ups IMMEDIATELY. You will get a ton of calls from the police and the insurance company after the accident. It will a very long time to get through the process and you should follow the instructions you get thoroughly at all times. If you fail to react on time, there is a possibility to suffer consequences. You will be asked to give another statement, visit the bike shop and once again state whether you want to sue the other party or not. This also means that if you caused the accident, there is a possibility that the other person sues you even though they initially refused to.
At least in our experience, the insurance company tried to minimize the costs for the accident treatment (medical care, transportation and bike repair). If you are not requesting whatever they are supposed to provide, they will not give it. So learn about your needs and rights and don't be shy to demand your essentials.
Note on the medical check procedure:
You will be asked whether you (or anyone involved in the accident) needs an immediate medical attention. Police will call an ambulance if needed. If you refuse the ambulance, you can do a checkup on your own (the following day or so). However, in that case you will not be taken to the ER and it might become a challenge getting a proper prompt check. While many people praise Japanese healthcare, I really cannot speak highly of it. Personally, both of us have had nothing but bad experience with hospitals and doctors in Japan. There is no concept of a general medical practice, and you will have to pick a specialist you want to visit on your own. Some hospitals have some departments with some equipment - and they lack others. It is common to get rejected for medical care in case you are not visibly on the edge of survival, and it's very common to get sent to an X-ray for no reason at all...
In my case, I was sent to different hospitals around town, refused at some for various reasons and asked to pay bills from my own pocket, even though that was against the insurance policy. Everyone tries to trick you, and assuming you are vulnerable at the time, they have a high chance to do so. Normally, you don't have to pay anything for medical treatments, but you need to coordinate every single detail regarding the appointment with the insurance company. It is best if they call the hospital beforehand and arrange the reservation details (note that there are no walk-ins to the clinics). You will likely lose many days arranging appointments (for example, I was sent to from one hospital to another 3 times as they didn't have a CT scanner, and after I finally got to the one that has it, I learned that they're performing scans only in the morning, therefore I was too late for it).
All ends well...
My experience with the accident was as good as it can be. I just received a nice call from the truck driver asking about my well-being. He has been very worried since yesterday and I feel very sorry for him. Overworked and tired, the last thing he needed after a too long work drive around Japan is bumping into some foreigner at a traffic light. He bumped into my Ninja just at the end of his journey home. Compared to some accidents we saw on the same road further on, we were all very lucky this time.