Japan’s Autonomous Cars Liability Policy


Autonomous cars and artificial intelligence (AI) are constant topics in our world today.  Companies such as Uber and Lyft are continuing to experiment with the technology in the hopes to offer self-driving automobiles for passengers on-the-go in the near future.  Even traditional automobile manufacturers such as Ford and GM and newer automobile manufacturers such as Tesla are also experimenting to see if they can utilize the technology to boost sales of their future automobile models.

One concern that has come up in regards to self-driving cars is, who is responsible when that autonomous automobile hits something, whether it would be a person and/or an object?  This is a question many are wondering about, including automobile manufacturers, tech companies, politicians, consumers, and more. 

Japan has taken a stance on this question already, as they have announced that owners of these cars will be responsible for any accidents that occur involving their vehicles.  They plan to introduce legislation as early as 2019 to put this into law.  Their government wants to have this legal framework established before self-driving automobiles become widespread, which some analysts and experts believe could happen by the first half of the 2020s. 

It is important to note that the proposed legal framework would cover accidents up to the “third level of automation,” which is defined as when a self-driving car has a human present within the vehicle.  This proposed regulation does not cover level four or five automation, which involves a self-driving vehicle with no human present within the vehicle.  Regulation covering those levels are expected later.

The regulation for levels one through three will generally hold owners of self-driving vehicles responsible when they are involved in accidents, with government-mandated auto insurance covering the costs.  The only exception is when there is a clear defect in the self-driving vehicle’s system; in this case, the automobile manufacturer will be held responsible for any accident costs involved.  It is expected that insurance companies will develop optional coverage plans for those self-driving vehicle owners who want them now that coverage requirements have been established. 

All self-driving vehicles will need to be able to record their location, speed, operational status, and steering in order for them to be allowed on Japanese roadways.  When it comes to a self-driving vehicle’s system being hacked, so long as the vehicle owner kept its system (including security protocols) updated, the incident would be treated similarly as someone stealing a non-autonomous vehicle.

There are still some issues Japan must work out in regards to autonomous vehicles.  Criminal liability has not been determined yet.  It is likely automobile manufacturers and tech companies developing the AI for these vehicles will want to know the criminal liability framework before they start putting these vehicles out on Japan’s roadways.  Other issues such as cybersecurity, speed limits, driving hours, and weather conditions will also have to be determined, something Japan is expected to address this coming summer.

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