National

Cabinet paves way for self-driving vehicles on Japan's roads next year with new rules

Kyodo, JIJI

The Cabinet on Friday approved rules for operating partially self-driving vehicles, paving the way for the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads.

The government plans to enforce an ordinance defining violations and setting penalties by May next year, as it envisions the use of Level 3 vehicles, which allow automated driving under certain conditions, on expressways in 2020.

Autonomous driving technology is classified into five levels, ranging from Level 1, which allows either steering, acceleration or braking to be automated, to fully automated Level 5.

The newly decided penalties apply to the inappropriate use of Level 3 autonomous driving technologies, which require users to switch to manual operations when preset conditions regarding road type, driving speed, weather, time of day and other factors are no longer met.

Violators of the ordinance will face fines of up to ¥12,000 ($110) depending on vehicle size.

According to the National Police Agency, a penalty of ¥9,000 will be imposed on people who use autonomous driving technologies in a standard-size car under circumstances that do not meet the required conditions. The same fine will apply when the device for keeping system operation records is malfunctioning during autonomous driving.

Under the country’s revised traffic law, vehicles with autonomous capabilities must be equipped with travel data recorders for analysis of traffic accidents.

Currently, the government envisages the use of Level 3 autonomous features during traffic jams on expressways so that drivers can watch television or operate smartphones as long as they can manually override the system at any moment.

The ordinance will ban the use of vehicles with poorly maintained self-driving systems and those without properly functioning data recorders.

Automakers will be required to obtain government approval for the specific operational conditions of their self-driving vehicles, including weather and road conditions, driving times and speed.

The Diet passed a bill in May to allow Level 3 self-driving vehicles. The amended law will come into effect by May next year.

Under the current law, people are banned from talking on their mobile phones and looking for long periods of time at navigation systems, televisions or other devices.

While the revised law will allow reading and eating, it will prohibit people from drinking alcohol, as there is a possibility that they will have to drive their vehicles manually.