Drafted revisions to get Level 4 driverless vehicles on the roads

The National Police Agency has drafted legal terms on when and how an advanced type of driverless vehicles can operate on public roads.

The NPA’s draft revision of the Road Traffic Act published on December 23 would allow the operation of automobiles at level 4 on the five-level scale for automatic driving technology.

The agency plans to submit the revision proposal to the ordinary session of the Diet which will open on January 17 after reviewing its details.

The government plans to use buses and other passenger transport vehicles for driverless transport services.

According to the draft NPA, the operators of these services will be required to monitor their vehicles remotely and immediately send personnel to the scene in the event of an accident.

The government intends to operate Tier 4 vehicles in limited areas in FY 2022 and increase the number of locations to over 40 by FY 2025 and over 100 by 2030.

Level 4 trucks are expected to hit the highways in 2025 at the earliest.

The driverless vehicles are monitored remotely from a building near their pick-up location in Eiheiji, Fukui Prefecture. (Junichi Kamiyama)

Driverless transport services have already been introduced across Japan using Level 3 vehicles, which require direct human intervention in emergencies.

In late March, the city government of Eiheiji in Fukui Prefecture began operating autonomous electric vehicles at 20-minute intervals during the day on weekends and holidays.

The electric vehicles can carry four to six passengers, including tourists and elderly residents, at a maximum speed of 12 km/h on a 10-minute, 2-kilometer journey.

Once staff members start the vehicles, the automated system takes over operations.

Car bodies are equipped with sensors and cameras to issue warnings and slow down when nearby pedestrians are detected.

A staff member is stationed in a nearby office to monitor the three rotating electric vehicles. The city said there were no emergencies requiring human response.

The EV autonomy level will be increased to 4 by the end of FY2022, so even emergency situations will be handled without personnel.

The city has high expectations for self-driving technology due to difficulties in hiring drivers in underpopulated areas with declining passenger numbers.

“Reducing the workforce is key to keeping public transport,” said Toru Yamamura, a senior official with the city’s policy planning division. “We will leverage self-driving technology to support people transportation.”

(This article was written by Junichi Kamiyama and Naoyuki Fukuda.)

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