Japan, Europe to set rules for self-driving cars

Japan and major European nations will compile common standards for autonomous cars that could take effect in 2018, sources said on Saturday.

The regulations could help autonomous cars accelerate into mass production and commercialization.

The U.S., which is ahead of other countries in developing driverless cars, plans to set its own rules. Japan and its European partners, however, will cooperate to urge the U.S. to adopt their common standards, the sources said.

A United Nations expert panel is now working on compiling common standards for cars that can pass other vehicles or pull into traffic without a driver at the wheel.

The panel members include representatives from Japan, South Korea and major European countries such as Germany, France and the U.K. as well as the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm. The panel has no U.S. representation.

A broad agreement is expected within months. Japan and the other countries will then create domestic certification and other systems.

The common standards will contain principles, such as limiting autonomous passing to expressways and holding a human driver accountable for any accident. They will also contain safety provisions, one of which will mandate the installation of a device designed to prevent operators from falling asleep or looking away.

The device could use a sensor to judge an operator’s condition.

A Model S car made by U.S.-based Tesla Motors recently made news when it crashed while in driverless mode. The operator, who was killed, is believed to have been looking away at the time.

The competition to develop autonomous cars is intense. It is being waged by Japanese, European and U.S. automakers. Even U.S. high-tech companies like search giant Google have joined the fray.

Significant progress has already been made in commercializing some of the technologies that these cars will rely on, such as automatic brakes and systems that allow cars to maintain a certain distance from one another.

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