Honda Motor Co. is preparing this year to become the first Japanese automaker to launch a vehicle with Level 3 autonomous driving, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Level 3 autonomy frees up the driver to engage in different activities, such as reading or watching TV. Honda's car is expected to offer such hands-off capabilities only in slow traffic on congested expressways, the sources said.

Audi AG already sells cars capable of Level 3 autonomy in Japan, with self-driving available at busy times on expressways.

Honda's car will likely be introduced after Japanese carmakers jointly test autonomous vehicle operations on public roads in Tokyo around July, they said.

In Level 3, drivers need to be available to take full control of the vehicle in case of emergency.

At Level 4, no driver interaction is needed, though the controls are available.

At Level 5, vehicles will no longer need drivers because they will not have steering wheels or other conventional car equipment.