Japan to draw up routes for roads dedicated to robot trucks

Digital reform conference sees PM repeat calls to get online government services right at last

Usually when a government announces it's drawing up a digitalization roadmap, it's being metaphorical. In Japan's case, it's quite literal: roadways dedicated to autonomous vehicles handling logistics-related traffic will be mapped out.

The idea was raised yesterday by prime minister Fumio Kishida at Japan's fifth Digital Administrative and Financial Reform Conference.

A summary of the conference posted by the PM's office states that Kishida wants "a basic framework for automated logistics roads, including the selection of possible routes, by around [northern] summer."

The plan is needed to help address congestion on regional roads, the summary states. Traffic is enough of a problem that the PM also called for digitizing Japan's tollways to improve efficiency.

Details of the roads dedicated to automated logistics were scarce, but local media report the plan is needed, in part, due to a shortage of drivers.

Other Japanese policies aren't helping that shortage – by design. The nation recently reduced maximum working hours to improve quality of life and safety, but that decision has exacerbated labor shortages caused in part by Japan's ageing population.

Also at the conference, Kishida called for development of policies for the operation of drones and autonomous cars.

The PM also wants more digitization of government services, and yesterday emphasized rapid delivery of three projects:

  • Standardization of government forms;
  • Digitalization of schools and use of data about the education system;
  • Introducing electronic prescriptions.

Developing standard systems that local governments can use to advance their own digitalization efforts was also named as priority.

All of which sounds lovely. But while digital transformation has been high on the to-do list of Japan’s government in recent years, public confidence in such measures has been dented by a data leak and services that were so confusing the relevant minister gave up three months' salary to apologize for the mess. ®

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