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On October 27, 2022, the National Police Agency of Japan (the “NPA”) issued drafts of amendments to Cabinet Orders and Ordinances (the “Draft Amendments”) under the Road Traffic Act (the “RTA”) for public comment. The Draft Amendments follow on from amendments made to the RTA, which were passed in April 2022, that introduced a framework to permit vehicles with Level 4 autonomous driving functionality to drive on public roads in Japan. The Draft Amendments include detailed rules with respect to Level 4 autonomous driving, such as the information required to be submitted to obtain the relevant permit, the requirements for individuals engaging in autonomous driving and the requirements for remote monitoring systems. The new rules relevant to Level 4 autonomous driving are scheduled to enter into force in April 2023. The Draft Amendments provide a clearer view of the regulatory framework under the amended RTA and may facilitate the development of autonomous transportation-related services in Japan. This article highlights a number of key points covered in the Draft Amendments.
Permission for Autonomous Driving
The amended RTA introduces the new concept of “specified autonomous operation” to describe Level 4 autonomous driving and sets forth a general regulatory framework. In the amended RTA, a “specified autonomous operation” is broadly defined as the use of a vehicle with an autonomous operation system, which enables the vehicle to automatically stop in a safe manner when certain conditions (e.g., operational design domain) cease to be met, without a driver operating the systems of the vehicle. Any person planning to conduct a “specified autonomous operation” is required to obtain permission from the Public Safety Commission that has jurisdiction over the location where the specified autonomous operation will occur.
When applying for the permission, a “plan of the specified autonomous operation” as well as other certain documents are required to be submitted to the relevant Public Safety Commission. The plan should include certain information about, among others, the vehicle(s), route, date and location, individuals involved in the specified autonomous operation, and measures for monitoring the vehicle(s). The Draft Amendments include a form of the application and further information about the details to be stated in the specified autonomous operation plan.
Autonomous Operation Manager
Under the amended RTA, an individual is required to be appointed as the person in charge of the specified autonomous operation (the “Autonomous Operation Manager”). The Draft Amendments set forth certain requirements for the Autonomous Operation Manager; namely, a person who (i) is not blind or deaf; (ii) has capability to use the remote monitoring systems and other facilities necessary for carrying out the specified autonomous operation in accordance with the operation plan; and (iii) is not regarded as unfit to fulfill the responsibilities of an Autonomous Operation Manager. The possession of driver’s license is not explicitly provided as a requirement under the Draft Amendments. However, considering the responsibilities of the Autonomous Operation Manager include those relating to traffic rules (e.g., taking necessary measures to avoid illegal parking after the specified autonomous operation has ended), the Autonomous Operation Manager should have some knowledge of Japanese traffic rules in order to meet requirement (iii) above.
Remote Monitoring Systems
Vehicles that are part of the specified autonomous operation are required to be monitored by either (i) remote monitoring systems, or (ii) an Autonomous Operation Manager physically in the vehicles. The Draft Amendments outline the requirements for the remote monitoring systems as follows:
- Constant and instantaneous reception during a specified autonomous operation of (i) clear video and sound of the inside of the vehicles and the roads and traffic surrounding the vehicles, and (ii) the location of the vehicles;
- Screens and speakers or other equipment so that the Autonomous Operation Manager can verify the video and sound being received;
- Wireless telephone device or other equipment so that the Autonomous Operation Manager can communicate with people inside and outside of the vehicles;
- The Autonomous Operation Manager will be immediately notified if there is a failure with receiving video, sound or location information or communicating with people inside and outside of the vehicles;
- The recording of all video, sound, location information, communication with people inside and outside of the vehicles and information of any system failures; and
- Necessary measures to ensure cybersecurity.
With respect to the cybersecurity requirement, the Draft Amendments do not provide any further details. It is expected that the NPA or another relevant authority will issue additional guidelines for further clarification.
The timeframe for receiving comments from the public on the Draft Amendments closed on November 26, 2022 and the final version of the amended Cabinet Order and Ordinance is expected to be issued sometime before April 2023. At this stage, it is expected that Level 4 autonomous driving systems will be installed in commercial vehicles used for businesses, such as buses, taxis and trucks. The Draft Amendments are another step in the Japanese Government’s plan to facilitate the operation of transportation services utilizing autonomous driving vehicles nationwide by around 2025. The Japanese Government also has a roadmap allowing passenger cars with autonomous driving functionality to operate on national highways from around 2025. In light of these two targets, many companies, including major Japanese automakers, are working on developing autonomous driving technology for passenger vehicles as well as commercial vehicles. We will continue to closely watch the forthcoming regulatory developments in the autonomous driving space.
Masaki Mizukoshi, Partner
Masaki Mizukoshi is a partner at Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu. His practice focuses on a wide range of domestic and cross border M&A related transactions. He has extensive experience in various types of commercial transactions, minority investments, and joint venture transactions in the technology field as well as global data compliance and cybersecurity-related matters.
December 15, 2022