In just 10 years or so, you may be traveling around comfortably, free from traffic jams and accidents, in a vehicle that drives itself.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry will soon embark on a project to realize an "autopilot system" for automatic driving, a system for guiding motor vehicles on expressways without human assistance.
The envisioned autopilot system is expected to contribute significantly to such goals as alleviating drivers' fatigue, preventing road accidents and easing traffic congestion. It would be for vehicles referred to as self-driving cars capable of sensing their environment and navigating by themselves, with people not required to perform any mechanical operation besides choosing their destinations.
With a view to making an autopilot system a reality in the early 2020s, the ministry will launch a study panel of experts at the end of this month or later, to start full-scale discussions about a self-steering vehicle control project.
The ministry envisages an autonomous vehicle system in which, after leaving your home, you enter an interchange of a nearby expressway while manually operating your car.
When pulling into the expressway's lane exclusively for the autopilot system, you change your driving mode to "automatic driving" and input your destination onto the system. You would take your hands and feet off the steering wheel, gas pedal and brake.
You would return to driving on your own only after reaching an intersection near your destination. Until then, you would leave all driving tasks to the self-steering system, comfortably enjoying whatever activity you like.
If materialized, the system would prevent human error from causing road accidents in the automatic driving areas.
"The system could prevent such accidents as a vehicle veering out of a lane, as happened with the tour bus that struck a wall alongside Kanetsu Expressway on April 29," an official of the ministry's Road Bureau said.
The autopilot driving system would also enable the elderly, who sometimes have difficulty making quick judgments and keeping attentive while driving, to use expressways safely, according to the ministry.