There are pros and cons to riding a motorcycle in a foreign country. First, though, riders must be familiar with the local laws of the host nation. There are several countries where there are no laws regarding the operation of a motorcycle, while others have written laws that are seldom enforced.
In Japan, for example, motorcyclists are permitted to ride between cars. This very dangerous practice could seriously injure or kill a rider if a driver decides to suddenly change lanes or open the vehicle door at a stop light. While stationed in Okinawa for several years, I saw firsthand just how differently the government enforces driving laws compared to the United States when I was involved in a motorcycle accident. Here’s my story.
I’d left Kadena Air Base about 4 p.m. and was on my way home. As I neared an intersection about a half mile from Camp Foster, I noticed a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. I made visual contact with the driver and proceeded into the intersection since I had the right of way. Without pause, the driver then turned right into my path of travel.
I had no time to apply the brakes, and my motorcycle struck the vehicle on the front left fender. The impact sent me airborne, and I landed on the hood of the vehicle. My momentum then carried me about another 20 feet. I landed hard on my right shoulder and finally came to rest on the other side of the vehicle. My motorcycle was lying on its side, dripping oil.
When I stood up, I realized I could not move my right arm. An ambulance transported me to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, where X-rays determined my right shoulder was dislocated. The doctor gave me a large dose of painkillers before resetting my shoulder. They released me later that evening and I was placed in a limited duty status. I had to attend physical therapy due to the severity of the damage to my shoulder.
Fortunately, I was wearing all of the proper personal protective equipment required by the Status of Forces Agreement, which likely lessened the severity of my injuries. Unfortunately, my $400 Shoei helmet was ruined, as was my leather jacket. The estimate to repair my motorcycle was just less than $3,000. Amazingly, the driver’s insurance company, as well as my own, settled and concluded the accident was my fault. The Japanese government essentially said that if I hadn’t been in the country, the accident wouldn’t have occurred.
I’ve been an avid motorcyclist for nearly 30 years. Despite this accident, I still own and ride motorcycles, but I learned a very valuable lesson that day. Before riding in another foreign country, I will always make it a priority to become familiar with all the local laws regarding motorcycles first.