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Gov't to allow remotely controlled test cars on public roads without police permission

A driverless car travels on a public road near Nagoya Castle in Nagoya's Naka Ward during an experiment on Feb. 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

Remotely controlled cars will be able to be tested on public roads without permission from local police chiefs, according to an outline of a bill to revise the national strategic special zones law to promote experiments on such vehicles in the special areas subject to deregulation.

The move is aimed at shifting the authority to issue permission for the use of roads for testing remotely controlled cars in areas designated as such zones from local police chiefs to regional panels on national strategic special zones to facilitate such tests.

The National Police Agency (NPA) and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry had initially been reluctant to support the proposed deregulation, pointing out that it would adversely affect traffic safety. In the end, the NPA and the transport ministry settled the matter with the Cabinet Office on condition that police station heads concerned give the green light in advance of such experiments.

Under the current law, business operators who intend to conduct experiments on remotely controlled vehicles on public roads in national strategic special zones need to go through complex procedures. They are first required to receive formal permission from the strategic zone regional panels to carry out such tests. They then need to notify local police of the specific sections of roads they intend to use for their experiments as well as the periods of the tests. They also have to report the specifications and structures of the vehicles they intend to test to the directors of district transport bureaus before getting formal permission from the local police chief and the district transport bureau head. Furthermore, if road routes for such experiments are changed, the changes must be reported to the relevant authorities each time.

Under the proposed amendment, such processes will be unnecessary. Instead, testing of remotely controlled cars will be allowed on public roads if the police chief and the district transport bureau head OK the test based on experiment plans submitted to local governments and the strategic special zone regional panels comprising the minister in charge of such areas and other concerned parties.

The existing screening criteria are expected to be applied when police chiefs give consent to such tests. If the screening standards were to be relaxed to facilitate driving tests of remotely controlled cars, however, it could cause safety risks for other vehicles as well as pedestrians in designated zones.

To dispel such concerns, the proposed revision would allow local police and district transport bureau chiefs to attach conditions to their consent when granting the use of public roads for testing such vehicles. Moreover, a clause requiring the establishment of a surveillance and evaluation expert panel to see if tests are being conducted as planned is expected to be incorporated in the bill.

Through the proposed revisions to the law, the government aims to put remotely controlled vehicles into practical use at an early date as a necessary step to test completely self-driving cars.

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