Japan's first fully autonomous car "grounded"

Japan's first pilot project for a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle has been suspended after a minor accident involving a parked bicycle, officials said.

It's the latest blow to global efforts to promote driverless vehicles, a technology that could be especially useful in an aging Japan.

The driverless bus-like vehicle began operating in Eiheiji in central Japan's Fukui prefecture in May, AFP reported.

This comes after Japan last year allowed Level 4 self-driving vehicles to be used on public roads, meaning they can only drive in a limited area.

On Sunday, it hit a bicycle that was parked on the road, local official Norifumi Hiramoto said.

None of the four passengers were injured, and the car's developers are investigating the cause, he said.

"We are suspending operations until the cause of the incident is clarified," he said.

A Fukui police spokesman confirmed that no one was injured in the incident.

The vehicle, designed to avoid obstacles using sensors and radars, was traveling at a maximum speed of 12 kilometers per hour.

The suspension comes just days after California authorities suspended tests of driverless cars such as robotaxis by General Motors' Cruise subsidiary after a series of accidents and other problems.

Like other industrialized nations, Japan is exploring the possibility of allowing self-driving technology on public roads.

Japan, which is considering easing a ban on ride-hailing services to ease a shortage of taxi drivers, aims to allow the use of Level 4 cars in 50 locations within three years. /BGNES