Last Thursday, the Japanese government raised the national speed limit for the first time. Ever since the opening of Japan’s first highway, the Meishin Expressway, in 1963 the speed limit has been pegged at 100 kph (approximately 62 mph). The new laws will lift that cap to 120 kph (approximately 75 mph) on select expressways.
It’s almost ridiculous that the speed limit has gone unchanged for so long. In 1963, a typical Japanese car was something like a Subaru 360, Nissan Bluebird 312, or a Toyopet Crown. And yet, despite tremendous advancements in safety, fuel efficiency and high-speed stability, GT-Rs, Supras and NSXes were constrained by the same rules (not that anyone really followed them outside of speed camera zones anyway).
The recommendation comes on the heels of research jointly conducted by the highway regulation experts, police agencies and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The study showed that raising the speed limit by 20 kph didn’t really result in more accidents as long as violations were enforced.
The first five roads to employ the 120 kph will be the Tohoku, Kanetsu, Joban, Tomei, Shin-Tomei and Kyushu expressways. Large trucks, however, will still be capped at 80 kph (5o mph), and urban loops like the Shuto will keep their 100 kph limits.
While Japanese drivers are now free to put their collective right foot down with a little less anxiety, the decision also means that the speed warning chime in most nostalgic domestic cars built from 1974 to 1986 kicks in far too early (usually 105 kph).