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November 3, 2022
Japan is set to become the latest country to allow driverless vehicles on its roads.
The National Police Agency has confirmed plans to incorporate Level 4 autonomous driving into traffic law next April.
Level 4 is defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers as when a vehicle drives itself under specific conditions, with no intervention required from a human.
The move will pave the way for vehicles such as robotaxis and self-driving shuttle buses to operate in Japan, as we are already seeing in the United States and China. In the past 12 months alone, General Motors-owned Cruise has launched a driverless commercial robotaxi service in San Francisco, Waymo has expanded into downtown Phoenix and Baidu has received permits to operate in Wuhan and Chongqing.
As was identified when a framework for the new Japanese legislation was put in place earlier this year, it is also hoped that it will enable the rollout of unmanned vehicles to transport elderly people in lowly populated rural areas.
Full details of the new rules are likely to be published at the end of November, after a period of public consultation.
But certain conditions have already been made clear. Commercial operators will be required to install monitoring devices and assign remote supervisors to ensure safety. The monitoring systems will record what happens in the vehicles, track the location and provide security against potential cyberattacks.
In the event of a problem with a vehicle, or in the worst-case scenario, a crash, the operator will have to send a staff member to attend to the situation.
And as in the U.S. and China, vehicle operators will be required to submit applications for permits to the relevant authorities, detailing their plans in full. In this case, that will be the public safety commission of each Japanese prefecture.
Companies that fail to comply with the regulations face losing their permits. Potential transgressions include failing to deal adequately with an accident or violations of traffic law.
Now that the legislation is being put into place, the Japanese government is keen to accelerate the rollout of Level 4 mobility services, with plans to have 40 areas covered by 2025 and more than 100 by 2030.
In 2021, Japan became the first country to approve Level 3 partial self-driving capability on a passenger car when the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism certified the tech on a Honda Legend.
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