TOKYO — Japan’s transportation ministry plans to introduce stricter safety requirements for autonomous vehicles, paving the way for buses and other public transportation that can operate without human drivers in aging, rural communities.
Japan is looking to level 4 automation, which does not require human control and may operate without a wheel or pedals, to provide a mobility solution to remote regions, where transit services are chronically hemorrhaging red ink.
Since level 4 vehicles would need to operate autonomously even in bad weather or in emergency situations, higher safety standards are necessary. The current standards cover only up to Level 3, which is premised on humans taking over driving in emergencies.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism aims to require more sophisticated controls for such vehicles, such as the ability to safely and autonomously pull over when ambulances are near.
The plan is to upgrade the safety requirements to coincide with an amendment to Japan’s Road Traffic Act planned by fiscal 2022, which would allow remotely monitored autonomous vehicles to operate within certain regions.
In March, the town of Eiheiji in Fukui Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast, became the first municipality in Japan to launch a Level 3 transportation service, where a driver remotely oversees three vehicles transporting tourists.
The transportation ministry also tested autonomous buses at five locations, including the city of Yokohama.
The government aims to provide Level 4 transportation services at 40 locations nationwide by 2025, and over 100 locations by 2030.
Level 4 technology is not expected to become widespread in Japan’s passenger cars until about 2025.