An amendment to Japan’s Road Traffic Act was published in the Official Gazette on April 27, 2022. (Act No. 32 of 2022, amending Road Traffic Act (RTA), Act No. 105 of 1960, as amended.) The amendment loosened regulations for riders of electric kick scooters and introduced a permission system for level 4 automated cars.
Electric Kick Scooter Regulations
Under the RTA, the RTA Enforcement Regulation, and the Road Transport Vehicle Act, electric kick scooters with motor power of 0.60 kW or less are categorized as motorized bicycles. (RTA art. 2, para. 1, item 10; RTA Enforcement Regulation, Ministry of Transportation Regulation No. 74 of 1951, as amended, art. 1, para. 1, item 2; Road Transport Vehicle Act, Act No. 185 of 1951, as amended, art. 2, para. 3.) The Road Transport Vehicle Act requires motorized bicycles to have a headlamp, license plate, light, and direction indicator. (Art. 44.) Driving an electric scooter without these on a road constitutes “operation of an improperly equipped vehicle,” which is punishable by up to three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 50,000 yen (about US$385). (RTA art. 62.)
In addition, riders on motorized bicycles, including electric kick scooters, must wear a helmet, and the rider needs to have a driver’s license. (Art. 71-4, para. 3; art. 84.) Further, owners of motorized bicycles are obligated to pay the light vehicle tax imposed by municipalities and to have automobile liability insurance. (Local Tax Act, Act No. 226 of 1950, as amended, arts. 442, 463-15; Automobile Liability Insurance Act, Act No. 97 of 1955, as amended, art. 2, para. 1 & art. 5.)
Under the amended law, a driver’s license will not be required for driving electric kick scooters if the driver is at least 16 years old and the maximum speed of the vehicle is 20 kph or less. Drivers will be allowed to use bicycle lanes. Wearing helmets is recommended for drivers, but not required. Drivers will be subject to the same penalties for traffic violations as those for motorcycle drivers, and will also be required to have license plates on their kick scooters and liability insurance.
The electric kick scooter rules will take effect within two years from April 27, 2022. (Act No. 32 of 2022, supp. art. 1.)
Level 4 Autonomous CarsThe new amendment includes regulations on level 4 driverless automated transportation services. Generally, automated cars are classified into four levels based on the human driver’s degree of involvement in operating the accelerator, brakes, and steering. The current RTA 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. (RTA art. 71-4-2; Road Transport Vehicle Act art. 41.) Level 4 automated transportation services are intended for use under remote monitoring in depopulated areas. Service providers will be required to obtain permission to operate from the relevant prefectural public safety commissions. (RTA new ch. 4-3, arts. 75-12 to 75-29.) The rules for automated transportation services will take effect within one year from April 27, 2022. (Act No. 32 of 2022, supp. art. 1.)