South Korea is lagging behind in revising regulations to prepare for the commercialisation of autonomous vehicles compared to other major countries such as the US, Germany and Japan, a Seoul-based think tank said on April 24.

The market size of autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles is expected to grow from $7.1 billion in 2020 to $1 trillion by 2035, a report by the Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI) showed. More than half of the newly launched cars to be sold in 2030 are expected to be equipped with level three autonomous driving technology.

Level three autonomous driving means that the driver can hand over control to the vehicle, but must be ready to take over when prompted in a limited number of areas such as on the freeway. Autonomy in vehicles is often categorised in six levels from level zero to five according to a system developed by the US-based SAE International.

South Korea’s auto giant Hyundai Motor had previously announced that it will equip Genesis G90 models with its level three autonomous driving technology, called Highway Driving Pilot.

But South Korea has yet to revise regulations so that level three automated cars can be driven commercially. Currently, level three cars can only be test-driven.

Starting from 2018 until last year, the government did come up with regulations to help promote the commercialisation of self-driving cars and to safely test drive them, but none were made to commercialise level three automated cars, KERI noted.

The test-driving distance of automated cars in South Korea and accumulated data is also far behind that of the US.

In the US, more than 1,400 automated cars have been test driven for a total of 3.2 million kilometres, while Korea only has around 220 self-driving cars that have been driven for only a total of 720,000km.

KERI suggested that the country ease requirements for autonomous driving to be in line with the speed of technological developments and to be competitive in the global market.

Major carmakers are fiercely competing to take the lead in commercialising level three self-driving vehicles.

Tesla, for instance, has revealed a technology called Full Self-Driving which is a level two and a half to three in autonomous driving technology, and does not require a driver to be present.

The Japanese carmaker Honda also began sales of the all-new Legend last March, equipped with an advanced technology qualifying for level three autonomous driving.

Mercedes-Benz launched the new generation of S-Class, the first car to meet the legal requirements for level three autonomous driving in Germany late last year.

Advancement in level three self-driving technology by carmakers in US, Germany and Japan, have been backed by legal requirements established in each country.

The US announced its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy back in 2016 to offer guidelines for each level of autonomous driving technology and allow level three and level four self-driving cars to be driven.

Last year, Germany revised its law to allow level four autonomous cars to be driven.

Japan has already revised its transportation-related regulations in 2019 to allow level three autonomous cars to be legally and publicly driven.