E-scooter rules likely to be loosened in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Electric kick scooters are seen in Fukuoka City in September.

Riders of electric kick scooters will no longer need a drivers license under a proposed law revision, as long as the scooter’s maximum speed is no more than 20 kph.

However, riders will have to be at least 16 years old.

The National Police Agency said Thursday that it plans to establish special traffic rules for “small motorized mobility” devices, including electric kick scooters, in line with their maximum speed.

A bill to amend the Road Traffic Law that includes regulations on such new mobility devices as electric scooters is expected to be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next year.

Under the proposed new regulations, a driver’s license will not be required for riding such vehicles if the rider is at least 16 years old, and the maximum speed of the vehicle is 20 kph or less — about the same speed as a bicycle.

The riders will be allowed to use bicycle lanes under the new rules, which will recommend — but not require — that they wear helmets.

To prevent accidents, riders are expected to be subject to the same penalties for traffic violations as those for motorcycle riders, and will also be required to have license plates and liability insurance. It is expected that many electric kick scooters will be subject to this law.

The agency will continue to treat such vehicles with a maximum speed over 20 kph as motor scooters for safety reasons.

The bill is also expected to include regulations on autonomous driving services.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Police officials remind electric kick scooter riders to ride safely in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 15.

The NPA also plans to allow “Level 4” automated transportation services, in which fully automated driving is allowed under a range of conditions, including emergency situations in which a human driver would take over at levels below Level 4.

Automated cars are classified into four levels based on the human driver’s degree of involvement in the operation of the accelerator, brakes and steering. Level 4 driving is expected to be used as a driverless transportation service under remote monitoring in depopulated areas.

Service providers will be required to obtain permission from the relevant prefectural public safety commissions, according to the agency. The expansion of fully automated driving to private cars is not envisioned.

The current Road Traffic Law only permits Level 3 driving, in which a self-driving system operates the car much of the time, but the human driver takes necessary actions in case of emergency.

Level 4 driving has never been allowed before now. The NPA plans to have operators submit their operation plans and check their monitoring systems and safety.