Japan’s National Police Agency is set to create a permitting system for the use of level 4 self-driving cars for transportation services in rural areas, Nikkei has learned.
Level 4 self-driving vehicles operate completely autonomously in certain conditions. A bill amending the road traffic law will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next spring. If approved, the road to practical use of level 4 self-driving cars will be open for the first time in Japan.
Authorities are considering applying the permitting system for buses operating on designated routes in depopulated areas. Under the plan, prefectural public safety commissions will examine operators’ plans and grant permission for them to offer automated transportation services.
The government aims to put level 4 automated driving systems to practical use in areas, aimed mainly at elderly passengers, by the end of the fiscal year ending in March 2023, expanding them to more than 40 locations nationwide by around 2025.
Self-driving technology is in use in Japan at level 3 now, which means the system can handle highway driving but requires a human to take the wheel if the system encounters difficulties. Unlike level 3, level 4 is premised on the idea that the system can safely drive or stop the car under certain conditions, including driving on designated routes without human interaction in bad weather or when an emergency vehicle approaches.
Current law in Japan allows for self-driving vehicles up to level 3, and commercial vehicles have been equipped with functions up to that level. The government aims to achieve level 4 by 2025, which would allow private cars and delivery trucks to operate on highways. With more data gathered through widespread use of the permitting system, the technology is expected to advance.
Under the new system, prefectural public safety commissions where the vehicle is to operate will examine the plans of the operator of the transportation service and grant a permit. Operators will be required to have remote monitoring capabilities and assign a chief monitor. They will also need to create a system that can quickly send staff to the vehicle in the event of an accident or other emergency.
Details of the permitting system, such as required qualifications for those who monitor vehicles, and whether permits will be renewable, will be determined later. If there is a violation by the operating company, the commission will be authorized to take administrative actions, such as issuing improvement orders, or suspending or revoking licenses.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism will examine vehicle performance and safety to ensure that they comply with legal safety standards.