Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday it has obtained approval for its "level-3" autonomous vehicle from the Japanese transport ministry for practical use under such conditions as when the car is in congested traffic on expressways.
It is the world's first approval of a vehicle with such automated driving equipment, according to the ministry.
While competition to develop self-driving technology is intensifying among automakers around the world, Honda said it plans to launch its Legend sedan with the level-3 autonomous driving capability by March in the Japanese market.
The level allows the driver to engage in different activities including reading and watching TV behind the wheel in certain conditions such as slow traffic on congested expressways, while the driver needs to take full control of the vehicle in case of emergency.
In April, a revised traffic law took effect in Japan to allow level-3 autonomous vehicles to run on public roads as part of its efforts to promote development of self-driving cars.
"This is truly the result of joint efforts by the government and the private sector," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the government's top spokesman, said at a press conference. "This is very good news."
Among Japanese automakers, Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru Corp. have introduced level-2 assistant systems allowing drivers to keep hands off the wheel in a single lane, but they are required to take full control of their vehicles at any time.
A five-level classification scale has been developed for autonomous vehicles. In case of a traffic accident, people driving vehicles at level 2 will be fully responsible, whereas automakers would shoulder part of the responsibility at level 3.
At level-4 self-driving, a vehicle performs all driving tasks without human intervention within a limited area, even in emergencies. At level 5, vehicles do not require human attention or interaction.