National

Police launch expert panel to discuss rules for autonomous vehicles

Kyodo

Police on Tuesday launched an expert panel tasked with discussing driving rules for autonomous vehicles, including a potential revision to road traffic laws.

Experts in law, social infrastructure and other areas will discuss specific issues to be resolved as firms move closer to commercializing self-driving cars for public roads. The government has recently compiled a policy outline for introducing mostly autonomous cars by 2025.

The panel is set to propose detailed rules such as how penalties will apply for accidents and traffic law violations involving level 3 and 4 autonomous vehicles.

Level 3 autonomy allows drivers to move their attention from driving in specific situations while requiring them to take back control when the vehicle requests it. A level 4 vehicle can drive itself without human input, even in emergencies, in designated areas.

The panel is expected to finalize its report by the end of the current fiscal year, which runs through March 2019.

It will also discuss the extent to which drivers can engage in other activities with their hands, such as eating or using a computer, while traveling in level 3 vehicles.

For vehicles with level 4 autonomy, the panel will consider how an operator should be penalized for traffic law violations — such as a driverless bus jumping a stop light, or exceeding the speed limit on a designated route. Level 5 vehicles have complete autonomy.

Another key agenda item will be rules for fleets of trucks “platooning” on expressways, including the appropriate speeds for them to travel, the length of platoons, and the distance between each truck.

Unmanned buses and taxis with autonomous driving technologies are expected to be particularly useful in areas of Japan where the population is shrinking. These areas are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain public transport networks due to the nation’s shrinking population.

In June last year, the National Police Agency compiled rules for testing driverless vehicles on public roads with remote monitoring. Such trials have been conducted in Tokyo, Aichi, Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures.

In the city of Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, in February, firms worked with the prefectural government to perform joint tests on an autonomous car in ordinary traffic on a 1-kilometer stretch of public road.

Detailed data about the road and traffic signs along the route were stored in the tested car, which traveled at a speed of less than 15 km per hour in the trial intended to determine whether a car traveling on the left-hand side of the road would be able to safely turn left at signals.

Aichi Prefecture is considering introducing driverless taxis for elderly people.

SB Drive Corp., a subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp., tested a self-driving bus earlier this year on a public road near Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The company and All Nippon Airways Co. hope to introduce autonomous buses to carry flight crew and passengers at the airport after 2020.

Level 2 vehicles with partial automation that assists steering, acceleration and deceleration is the most sophisticated technology commonly available on vehicles traveling public roads in Japan.