Automated or autonomous cars
The Japanese government has established a roadmap for the introduction of automated driving in Japan. The roadmap has defined the five automated driving levels in Japan, with fully autonomous driving at level-5. The roadmap also addresses the steps required for the implementation of automated driving levels from 2 to 5, with a goal to realise the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads. In accordance with the previous discussion, the government issued the Outline of the Legal Framework Preparation for Automated Drive in April 2018, setting out necessary regulatory updates and potential legal issues posed by automated vehicles.
According to the MLIT, level-2 and level-3 automated vehicles may be driven on public roads without any infringement of regulations, provided there is a driver inside the vehicle who can take immediate control of the steering wheel, brakes and other equipment. In fact, many car manufacturers have launched level-2 and limited level-3 automated vehicles in the market. The MLIT has set standards for the limited use of level-3 automated vehicles under the following conditions: when the driver loses steering control, the driver must be warned within 15 seconds and the automated drive must be switched off within 65 seconds; in an emergency, automated drive must be overridden by the driver by giving a certain level of torque to the steering wheel; and automated parking must be at the speed of 10km/h or less. The JNCAP has included pre-crash braking systems and lane keep assist systems in the list of test items from 2014.
From 2017, insurance companies are offering a discount of up to 10 per cent on the insurance premium for vehicles equipped with advanced safety technologies including pre-crash brakes.
The MLIT further expects full-fledged level-3 automated driving around 2020. To this end, the MLIT issued Guidelines for the Safety Technologies of Automated Vehicles in September 2018. These guidelines, although not legally binding, set out 10 elements to ensure the safety of automated driving:
- setting of ODD;
- safety of the automated driving system;
- compliance with the Safety Standards;
- human-machine interface;
- data logging;
- emergency measures for the autonomous transportation system;
- safety evaluation;
- in-use improvement; and
- provision of information to the user.
These guidelines are designed to be interim standards for the development of automated vehicles until legally binding standards are established. The Road Traffic Act (RTA) sets the obligation of safe driving upon the driver, and the MLIT maintains the concept that the driver should be responsible for driving, and any resulting accidents, even during level-3 automated driving.
Level 4 is still under debate owing to the Convention on Road Traffic (Geneva, 1949) and the Road Traffic Act (Act No. 105 of 1960, as amended) Road Transport Act (Act No. 183 of 1951, as amended (RTA)), both of which assume the existence of a driver on board. However, the MLIT announced an amendment to the Safety Standards enabling experimental operations of a ‘level 4’ autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel, or acceleration and brake pedals on a public road under certain conditions including the time, weather, speed limit, route of operation, emergency kill switch and safety staff.
Experiments on public roads
The MLIT requires no special approval for the experimentation of automated vehicles on public roads as long as it satisfies the Safety Standards and has a driver in the vehicle. The MLIT may also grant special permission for vehicles that do not comply with the Safety Standards to enable experiments on public roads. In both cases the testing must comply with the specific guidelines issued by the National Police Agency in May 2016. A number of exceptional permissions for testing have been granted, for example:
- in January 2019, as part of a series of experiments continued since 2018, the MLIT and METI jointly conducted an experiment for automated truck platooning using Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control that will enable autonomous driving in platooning trucks on the motorway. The MLIT and METI are contemplating commercial service in 2020. One impetus for this programme is Japan’s ageing society and workforce shortage;
- an IT venture company and a major taxi operator conducted a series of experiments with autonomous taxis (with a security attendant in the driver’s seat) and provided services to passengers on public roads in the urban area of Tokyo;
- the prefectural government of Aichi tested an autonomous vehicle on public roads in a suburban area in December 2017; and
- an OEM and an IT venture jointly conducted a series of experiments of autonomous taxis (with a security attendant in the driver’s seat) and provided services to passengers on public roads in the urban area of Yokohama.
The JNCAP has included pre-crash braking systems and lane keep assist systems in the list of test items from 2014. From 2017, insurance companies are offering a discount of up to 10 per cent on the insurance premium for vehicles equipped with advanced safety technologies, including pre-crash brakes.
The government is also preparing for necessary legislative reform. The MLIT announced on 8 March 2019 that the cabinet approved an amendment to the RTVA, which will be passed by the parliament and come into effect in 2020. This amendment includes requirements for Safety Standards as well as maintenance and wireless updates of automated driving systems.
In December 2018, the National Police Agency announced the draft of an amendment to the RTA (Road Traffic Act (Act No. 105 of 1960, as amended)) to allow the use of a mobile phone in level 3 autonomous driving. The amendment will also require that vehicles maintain a log of automated driving and that the driver submit the log to the police under certain circumstances.
The legislative reform also extends to the civil liability of the driver. Under the Automobile Liability Security Act (see above), the primary liability for losses caused by a traffic accident is assigned to the operator of the vehicle (eg, the owner of the vehicle or the business owner of a transportation service - not necessarily the driver). The burden of proof (to disprove negligence) in an accident is shifted to the operator, and the operator will be held liable for damages caused by the accident unless the operator successfully proves: that the operator exercised due care; the victim or a third-party was at fault; and the vehicle did not have any defect. The MILT working group confirmed on 20 March 2019 that this framework will be maintained for autonomous vehicles.
OEMs and suppliers should note that advanced equipment for connected vehicles may be subject to additional regulations. Namely, radio devices and wireless communication are as regulated as automobiles. For example, the available bandwidths and requirements for the use of radio devices are regulated by the Radio Act (Radio Act (Act No. 131 of 1950, as amended)), and on-board communication services for automobiles may trigger filing obligations with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications under the Telecommunication Business Act (Telecommunication Business Act (Act No. 86 of 1984 as amended)).
The amendment to the RTVA will require that online updates of automated driving programmes be approved by the NALTEC in advance.
The use of big data will raise concerns regarding personal information protection.
Hybrid, plug-in hybrid, EVs and FCVs
The strategy for low- and zero-emission vehicles varies depending on the car manufacturer. Hybrid vehicles are commonplace today and are also increasing in popularity for heavy-duty vehicles. METI has been promoting plug-in hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles by offering financial aid for the acquisition of such clean energy vehicles and the establishment of battery chargers and hydrogen stations. The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation and Keihin Kyuko Bus have placed fuel cell busses on regular service.
On 22 March 2016, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under the METI revised its roadmap for the promotion of the FCV strategy, which was first published in June 2014. According to this ambitious roadmap, the agency is aiming to increase the number of fuel cell vehicles to approximately 40,000 by 2020, and to 800,000 by 2030, and increase the number of hydrogen stations to approximately 160 by 2020, and up to 320 by 2025.
Also, the Safety Standards are constantly being updated to accommodate the requirements for these clean automobiles, including in relation to batteries, high-voltage cables, fuel cells and hydrogen tanks.
Car or ride sharing
Pursuant to the Road Transport Act, a licence is required to operate a taxi or operate a passenger vehicle transportation business, which is defined as a service that gives rides in a car to others for consideration on demand. Therefore, ride sharing services cannot operate under the current legislation in Japan (though one ride sharing service limits its services to hailing of high-end licensed taxis with a professional chauffer). By the same token, a Chinese transportation network company recently launched a taxi booking service, instead of a ride sharing service, in Japan.
In 2015, one ride share application service provider started testing its service in Japan without the passenger paying the tariff to the driver. Instead, the driver received remuneration from the ride share company on the basis of a ‘data provision fee’. Nevertheless, the MLIT requested that the service provider stop the tests on the basis that such a payment still falls within the definition of ‘consideration’. However, the MLIT also noted that the payment of a small amount that can be seen as a voluntary expression of gratitude or reimbursement of the actual expenses incurred, such as fuel, motorway and parking fees, will not be regarded as ‘consideration’ and is therefore acceptable. Some companies have launched this kind of matching app.
A car sharing service is feasible as a sort of rent-a-car service subject to the licence requirement under the Road Transport Act, and several rent-a-car companies have been operating car sharing services in urban areas making use of vacant parking lots. However, it is prohibited for individuals to hire out cars as a business. In addition, drop-offs in places other than registered parking spots are not permissible because the vehicle registration system (see question 2) requires the specification of a ‘primary place of use’ where the vehicle is usually parked.
However, in contrast with the above, the government has been promoting various ‘sharing economy’ policies and designated a rural town in Kyoto prefecture as a national strategic special zone to experiment with deregulation. The first ride-sharing service operating without a taxi licence was launched in May 2016.
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