St George News

Not drunk but confused, Japanese tourists give ‘chase’ to UHP

ST. GEORGE — A Japanese tourist, driving in a way that Utah Highway Patrol thought suggested the driver was intoxicated, would not pull over Sunday morning, causing UHP to close down Interstate 15 in both directions between the Bluff Street and Telegraph Street exits until they spiked the car’s tires to bring it to a stop. As it turned out, the driver was confused and did not know what to do when she saw the flashing lights.

About 1 a.m. Saturday, a Japanese family of two adults and one child were traveling through St. George on I-15 on their way to Bryce Canyon when their sporadic driving caught the attention of the UHP. UHP Lt. Brad Horne said he was the first to notice the white Nissan on northbound I-15 going unusually slow and wandering in and out of the lane it was in.

When UHP attempted to pull the car over with flashing lights and sirens, the driver began alternating speeds ranging from 35-75 mph, exceeding the 65 mph limit on that stretch, moving about between all lanes of the highway and even driving on the shoulder at times. Thought to be a road hazard, Horne said, the car’s tires were punctured by a spike strip system law enforcement set at mile post 9.5 after which the driver pulled over by about mile post 10 near the Telegraph Street exit.

Upon making the stop, the officer realized the driver was neither inebriated nor running from them, Horne said. They were Japanese tourists and evidently confused.

“It was a really traumatizing situation,” Horne said, “especially with a 7-year-old son, it was obviously a very traumatizing situation for them.”

None of them spoke any English. They had just flown in from Japan earlier that day and rented the car in California.

After getting an interpreter on the phone, police were able to find out that the couple had no idea what to do when they saw the lights behind them.

“She admitted that she knew it was the police behind her,” Horne said of the driver, “but she just did not know what to do.”

They told officers that at first they thought they were supposed to speed up and get out of the way when they saw the lights and then they thought they should slow down.

UHP interacts with tourist drivers in the area and has seen similar things, Horne said, but never to this degree. “This mainly was just a cultural and language barrier situation,” he said.

The officers assisted the couple to a motel for the night.

Horne is commander over the UHP’s DUI squad and was in St. George with his entire squad over the weekend for a special enforcement activity. “Real frankly, we thought it was a DUI,” Horne said. “I’m commander of the DUI squad and that’s what we’re looking for.”

The driver did not present a driver’s license to the officers. While an incident of this nature normally would give rise to felony evading charges, Horne said the unique circumstances will likely result in misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and failure to yield, at the discretion of the Washington County Attorney.

County Attorney Brock Belnap had not yet received the case of consideration Monday when St. George News inquired. He could not speculate on any action he might take, he said.

This report is based on information provided by law enforcement and may not contain the full scope of findings.

Ed. note: Updated 7:58 p.m.  to add the driver had no driver’s license.

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Email: dallred@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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  17 Comments
  1. Tina February 24, 2014 at 6:36 pm · Reply

    Drew,

    I’m curious, what are the requirements for foreigners driving on our roads? Citizens must pass a driving test, obviously. If one has a driver’s license in another country, is that all they need to rent a car here, or do they have to at least pass a written test at the car dealership? Very curious to know. I would love some follow up here.

    Thanks,

    • My Evil Twin February 25, 2014 at 9:10 am · Reply

      They are legal to drive in this country, as long as they have some type of valid driver’s license. And this includes an “International Driver’s License,” which has no testing required.
      Japanese driver’s licenses are expensive and hard to acquire, but anyone who is of age can purchase an International License. Therefore you can, and often do have, international drivers who have no idea of traffic laws, and perhaps have never driven any type of motor vehicle, who can legally rent and drive vehicles, including the rental motor-homes, here in the U.S. It is blatantly insane.
      They do something dumb and are issued tickets, which of course are never paid, as they are back home before the court date even arrives.
      A lot of these folks are repeat tourists here, who thoroughly understand the system, if not our driving regulations. They know that unless they happen to get stopped in a jurisdiction where they are forced to post cash bail for traffic offenses, they literally have a free ride.
      This is why you see some officers take foreign offenders directly to a traffic court, if one is available. But most cops won’t bother with it. They should.

    • Justin February 26, 2014 at 4:34 am · Reply

      I often travel to St George to spend time with my wife and sons, as I live in South Australia (immigration to home to be with them proceeding) As long as I have a valid South Australian Drivers licence I can drive in the USA. If you were to come to Australia, your Utah state drivers licence is considered valid here, so you wont have to do a drivers test either. To get an international drivers licence usually requires that you show evidence (by way of a full drivers licence of your home country or state) before they are issued, though there are some who sell them fraudulently. I must admit, when I first start driving in the US after spending time in Australia it takes a bit of getting used to the different side of the road. and vice versa when I get back to Australia

  2. My Evil Twin February 24, 2014 at 7:54 pm · Reply

    It doesn’t matter what the county attorney charges them with. They will be back home in Japan and laughing their butts off over it before the court date.
    Stupidity knows no boundaries when it comes to nationalities.

  3. Sam Pellegrino February 24, 2014 at 8:31 pm · Reply

    How could they rent a car without a Driver’s License?
    Who’s paying for replacement of the flat tires?

    • Paul Jensen February 25, 2014 at 3:07 am · Reply

      If she didn’t have a drivers license with her, then I’d think that her husband was the one who rented the car.

  4. Al Kimball February 24, 2014 at 11:13 pm · Reply

    We get all kinds of these nine-balls up here in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah. Typically, they are japanese wives of graduate students.

  5. T-Bone February 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm · Reply

    Fact: Japanese cannot get their drivers license until they are 20. The rules are much more strict than they are in the US. And it takes more money to drive. So most drivers are a bit more affluent and sophisticated. No rust buckets on the roads over there.
    I blame jet lag and confusion. The article says that the driver had just flown in from Japan and rented the car in California.
    As for the license, the husband probably rented the car and let her drive. Another bad decision. Coming from a peaceful country like Japan, where police assist citizens, these poor tourists were probably traumatized when they met up with our militarized police. They are lucky this happened in Utah. In LA, the police would have handcuffed them and stood on their necks, then beat them senseless while yelling, “Stop resisting.”
    But to be fair, who doesn’t know that flashing lights on a police car mean pull over?

    • anna thomas February 25, 2014 at 11:36 am · Reply

      They were traumatized ?? What about all the other drivers on the roads that they terrorized with their “confused” and dangerous driving? Ignorance of traffic laws, jet lag, and inability to speak or understand the language of the country you are in, is no excuse for putting the lives of others at risk, nor is it an excuse for tying up police resources. Maybe if you are a tourist and don’t know what you are doing, you shouldn’t be doing it.

  6. that guy February 25, 2014 at 1:40 am · Reply

    Come on they have cops in Japan they have flashing lights and sirens on their cars as well. No excuses here.

  7. debbie February 25, 2014 at 8:10 am · Reply

    i believe their story.. completely matches this article. http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/police-lights-in-Japan

  8. Justin February 26, 2014 at 10:08 am · Reply

    If they don’t understand English, How are they reading the road signs to get to Bryce canyon?

    • Justin February 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm · Reply

      I am guessing a japanese language GPS

  9. Richard in Hong Kong March 4, 2014 at 3:45 am · Reply

    This story has made the newspapers all across the world including here in Hong Kong where I teach English. I used the story as a teaching article. One thing that has caused a huge debate in my class was who will pay for the replacement tyres? I doubt any insurance they have would cover this, many of my students thought the Utah police should pay. But surely the Japanese tourists must pay for that themselves, in my view they are quite lucky they weren’t charged for dangerous driving. Could someone out there please solve our argument, who paid for the tyre replacement?

  10. Richard in Hong Kong March 4, 2014 at 3:51 am · Reply

    And another thing, I am British, I enjoy driving holidays in USA and fly over every 2 years and hire a car for a road trip. I have done this same route on I-15. They were quite crazy to fly overnight from Japan, arrive jetlagged and do a very long drive from LA to Bryce on the same day. Whenever I come over, I prefer to do a very short journey on the first day so that I can get used to the different driving conditions in America and have a proper rest before driving off on a long road trip!

  11. Robb Willie June 19, 2014 at 4:51 pm · Reply

    DWA. Driving while Asian.

  12. Robb Willie June 19, 2014 at 5:04 pm · Reply

    About 10 years ago, my family and I were driving South of Vegas on I-15. We were on our way to Long Beach, CA to go on a cruise to Mexico. The freeway was pretty full, as it can be, when all the So. Californians head home from a Las Vegas weekend. Things were proceeding fine in spite of the traffic, until this lunatic came flying up, speeding, then slowing, weaving, bobbing, and once, seeming to attempt to park his car at full speed beneath the trailer portion of a moving semi truck. He almost seemed to key on us, and I tried to stay away from him; but was unable to shake him. He would fall back, then suddenly zoom up again, appearing to be lonely and wishing to snuggle our car with his; nestled in my blind spot. We called CHP and they gathered him up near Baker, CA. I don’t know if he was drunk, tired or what. I don’t know what country he was from, perhaps the US, but the car had plates that often appear on rental cars, and he was Asian.

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