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8.4.3 Japan

Influenced by Google's lobbying at the state level in the United States, Japan has begun to exhibit more interest in autonomous vehicles. Japan is renowned both for its robotic technologies and its low-carbon vehicle technologies. In 2013, Nissan received approval from the Japanese authorities to test its self-driving car, the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is the first car that combines an electric motor with an advanced driver assistance system [3]. Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa and Nissan Vice Chairman Toshiyuki Shiga tested the car on the Sagawa Expressway near Yokohama [38]. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also has tested several “self-driving cars” produced by Japanese manufacturers Toyota, Honda, and Nissan and has claimed that he senses “that the Japanese technology is the world's best” [39]. “In particular, in tough driving conditions such as tight curves and lane changing using autonomous driving, I think our Japanese technologies are among the world's best” [37]. The competition to be a leader in the field is clearly heating up and politicians are lending their visibility and weight to support this emerging technology.

8.4.4 United Kingdom

The situation of the United Kingdom is emblematic of the situation in many European states. There is growing concern that national automobile developers are being hampered by regulatory restrictions and lack of a clear political strategy for autonomous vehicles. A September 2013 advise of the British Houses of Parliament, Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology notes, “There is no explicit legislation which governs autonomous vehicles on UK roads”. The advice further laments: “At present there is no published strategy for the adoption of autonomous vehicles in the UK” [29]. As is the case with several other European member states, steps to improve the possibilities for testing are being taken. The British Ministry of Science and Universities has designated £6 million for research and technology into autonomous vehicle technologies and the Department for Transport is permitting trials on public roads.

8.4.5 Sweden

Sweden is an early pioneer of self-driving technology. The Swedish Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Volvo to allow ordinary people to use self-driving cars. The project involves the Swedish Transport Administration, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg. It is the first project that aims at testing autonomous vehicles on a larger scale with regular citizens. The project which started in 2014 aims at putting 100 autonomous vehicles onto a 50 km long road in Gothenburg by 2017/ 2018. It also sets the year 2020 as a timeline for when the first autonomous cars will be available for general usage [28].

The collaboration between the Swedish government and Volvo in this project suggests that in Sweden there is political recognition of the potential importance of this new technology. Swedish public officials highlight not only the safety dimensions of the new technology but also other sustainability factors. Ms. Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd, the infrastructure minister listed the many challenges to be tackled in the years to come that would be addressed by autonomous vehicles. These included environment, climate change, space, and traffic safety. In Europe, there appears to be a stronger linking of broad sustainability themes to driver-less cars than is the case in the United States [50].

Claes Tingvall from the Swedish Transport Administration explained why co-operation between the government and Volvo makes sense. Such co-operation can help address legislative questions regarding the new technology early on. At the same time, the societal benefits from the new technology can be incorporated into policy more generally: “We can make traffic as a whole safer, smoother, less polluting, but also try to build infrastructure in a quite different way”. Minister Elmsäter-Svärd noted: “This project is very unique and the expectation from the Swedish government is still to be in the lead when it comes to road safety. We know that livability, environment issues and also road safety is so close together in the project.” Noteworthy, is that the inscription on the Volvo self-driving car states: “Drive Me. Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility” [50].

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