Honda has clearance from the Japanese government to make and sell cars which can drive themselves in certain conditions like congested traffic.

On Thursday Honda announced it plans to commercialise autonomous vehicles in Japan early next year. The manufacturer received clearance from Japanese transport authorities for “Level Three” automated driving, allowing its cars to operate autonomously in certain scenarios.

There are six levels of autonomous vehicle control, ranging from traditional cars with some assistance like cruise control to fully autonomous level five vehicles which may not even have a steering wheel or pedals.

Honda’s level three cars will be allowed to drive themselves in congested traffic on an expressway and drivers will legally be allowed take their eyes off the road. 

The sticker to be displayed on autonomous vehicles in Japan. Source: Honda.

Honda plans to launch sales of its Honda Legend sedan equipped with its automated driving hardware and software, known as “Traffic Jam Pilot”, before April 2021.

The Japanese government amended its driving laws last year in preparation for autonomous vehicles hitting the roads. Honda’s cars, and any other autonomous vehicle, are subject to certain safety measures under the changes.

“Self driving cars are expected to play a big role in helping reduce traffic accidents, provide transportation for the elderly and improve logistics,” said Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Rules for autonomous driving

According to the safety standards, any autonomous driving equipment must not compromise the safety of the driver, passengers or any other road user and can only operate when certain conditions are fulfilled – like slow moving traffic under Level 3.

If conditions become unsatisfactory or the environment unsafe the vehicle must return control to the human driver or, failing that, come to a stop.

Vehicles must also monitor the “condition” of the human driver, adopt adequate cybersecurity, and display an external sticker indicating the vehicle is equipped with automated drive.

Any automated driving must also be logged, including time switched on, handovers to human drivers and times when a handover was not successfully completed.

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