Less than six months after being proposed by the National Police Agency, the Japanese Diet has enacted amendments to the Road Traffic Act which will allow Level 3 automated vehicles to be used on public roads. The amended law will come into effect by May 2020.
Level 3 automated vehicles are capable of driving without the need for the driver to monitor the dynamic driving task or the driving environment, but require the driver be in a position to resume control, if needed. The issue of transfer of control (or “handover”) between vehicle and driver has proved controversial, and industry is split as to whether this can be done safely.
We previously considered the impact of these amendments in our January blog post (available here). In summary, they are as follows.
- The concept of “driver” under the Road Traffic Act now includes an “Autonomous Driving Device” – a system that takes the place of recognition, prediction, judgment and operation of humans entirely.
- Vehicles must be fitted with a data recorder (an Operating Condition Recorder), which may be required by the police in the event of an accident.
- Drivers may only use Level 3 features when their vehicles satisfy the operational design domain set by the manufacturer.
- Drivers are not permitted to sleep, consume alcohol or to sit in the back seat, but may use a mobile phone, read a book, eat or watch an in-built entertainment system, provided that they are ready to immediately take back control of the vehicle.
- Approvals will be required through a permit system for wireless updates to self-driving programs, aimed at preventing the risk of cybersecurity breaches.
- Manufacturers will be required to provide technical information to facilitate inspections of autonomous driving equipment, and special certification will be required for autonomous vehicle maintenance providers to carry out operations.
The amendments are a necessary step for Japan to achieve its aim of showcasing its driverless car technology at the 2020 Olympics. However, they still leave Japan behind some jurisdictions (for example, California), where commercial self-driving vehicles are already being operated.