TOKYO — A section of Japan’s busiest expressway connecting Tokyo and Nagoya will be set aside for self-driving trucks in 2024 as part of government plans to cope with a severe shortage of drivers in this rapidly aging nation.
The self-driving lane will run along a section of the Shin-Tomei Expressway, covering some 100 kilometers between Numazu and Hamamatsu — two cities on the south side of Mt Fuji — sources told Nikkei.
The idea assumes demand at night for cargo transport on driverless trucks, and is part of a road map for national digital infrastructure due to be presented by the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
A major component in the blueprint is an example of the push for labor-saving technologies that anticipates a sharp population drop in the coming years.
The Numazu-Hamamatsu section is long and straight with three lanes on each side, and well suited to use by autonomous vehicles. It has not been decided if the lane should also be open to driven vehicles.
Driverless lanes require sensors and cameras at short intervals to enable real-time monitoring of road conditions. If fallen objects or other obstacles are detected, approaching vehicles can be alerted to slow down.
Detailed rules regarding the installation of sensors and driving rules will be worked out by the transport ministry, the industry ministry and the expressway operator.
5G communication networks will be needed along the route, including along elevated stretches, for real-time information transmission.
The project will contribute to developing self-driving technology in Japan where momentum has been lost lately because of the lack of legal clarity on advanced automation levels and the lack of necessary road infrastructure.
Level 4 automation allows autonomous vehicles to perform all driving tasks under specific circumstances, and will be permitted from next month.
Businesses are looking to launch new services in anticipation of the rule change. Trading house Mitsui, for instance, is planning to introduce a logistics service using large driverless trucks in fiscal 2026.
Credit to: NikkeiAsia