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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 November 28 - December 4  > US military personnel in Japan enjoy ‘SOFA-protected’ driving privileges
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2018 November 28 - December 4 TOP3 [US FORCES]

US military personnel in Japan enjoy ‘SOFA-protected’ driving privileges

December 1, 2018

When U.S. military personnel, civilian personnel, or their families own a car in Japan for private use, they are given a special license plate with the letter “Y” on it as well as special driving privileges thanks to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Their driving licenses will not be suspended or revoked by Japanese authorities no matter how many traffic violations they may have. In addition, they receive a huge tax break for their “Y” plate vehicles. Transport Ministry data shows that around 55,000 of such automobiles are registered in Japan as of the end of October.

The government in 2009, in response to an inquiry from House of Councilors member Itokazu Keiko, submitted a written response acknowledging that U.S. military personnel and U.S. military-related persons will not be subject to administrative punishments, such as the suspension or revocation of their driving licenses under the SOFA.

In contrast, in Germany, the German law relating to the withdrawal of driver’s licenses is applied to U.S. military personnel in the country under the NATO SOFA supplementary agreement or the Bonn Agreement which was revised in 1993.

Furthermore, owners of “Y” plate cars shoulder much smaller automobile tax burdens than Japanese car owners do. For example, U.S. military personnel and other military-related persons in Okinawa paid 302 million yen in automobile taxes in 2016. This was revealed at a prefectural assembly meeting in 2016 in the prefectural government’s reply to Japanese Communist Party assembly person Senaga Mikio. A prefectural government official added that if they had not received the favorable tax treatment under the SOFA, they should have paid an additional 689 million yen or 991 million yen in total. The Okinawa prefectural government calls for revision of the Japan-U.S. SOFA so that U.S. military will pay fair share of car taxes.

Past related articles:
> US military uses ports, airports, and highways in Japan for free under SOFA [November 18, 2018]
> Japan bears cost to clean up contamination at returned US bases under SOFA [November 16, 2018]
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