Information Bulletin No.40

A Multimedia Driving Companion

September 19, 1995

Beginning in the spring of 1996, a new service will be launched in the Tokyo metropolitan area to provide drivers with real-time information about traffic conditions via car navigation systems. If it catches on, the service promises to reduce traffic snarls and take a bite out of pollution.
Today's car navigation systems track a car's ever- changing position on an on-screen map by means of satellite transmission, indicating the route to one's destination with arrows or a computerized voice. Full-fledged systems came on the market some five years ago, and they are selling at an increasingly rapid clip. Sales increased 10-fold between 1992 (30,000 units) and 1994 (300,000 units), and it is projected that approximately 500,000-600,000 of these electronic navigators will be attached to Japanese dashboards this year.
The big drawback of car navigation systems is that they are unable to determine the fastest way to one's destination or estimate the time of arrival because they have no way of taking into account traffic jams, accidents, or other variable road conditions. To address this shortcoming, the Advanced Traffic Information Service has been introduced around Tokyo. ATIS makes available traffic updates compiled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to car navigation systems. The service's appeal is limited, however, because it only covers the Tokyo area and requires a user fee, as it relies on wireless telephone circuits to transmit data to drivers.

Getting There Faster and Cheaper

The Vehicle Information and Communication System, to be launched next spring, could prove to be the answer to this information bottleneck. Developed jointly by the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the National Police Agency, and a consortium of private enterprises, VICS is designed to provide drivers with information on road conditions, accidents, breakdowns, traffic restrictions, and even parking availability in a combination of video and audio formats.
This data will be beamed by roadside transmitters to compatible car navigation systems or televisions. Cars thus equipped will be able to display up-to-the-minute traffic information free of charge.
Drivers able to receive VICS will be able to avoid clogged arteries and choose routes that get them to their destinations quicker. It is hoped, furthermore, that widespread use of VICS will, by helping to prevent traffic jams, lower levels of exhaust fumes and noise--good news for the environment--and result in substantial economies of time and money. If all cars on the road were to be equipped with VICS receivers, the resulting time gains from smoother traffic flow is estimated to translate into 7.7 trillion yen for the economy over the next 20 years, with a yearly savings of 450 billion yen from reduced gasoline consumption.
VICS is initially set to be available on city streets in eight prefectures--the six prefectures of the greater Tokyo area as well as Osaka and Aichi--and on the Tomei- Meishin Expressway, running between Tokyo and Hyogo Prefecture. Plans are already on the drawing board to expand the area of coverage.

(The above article, edited by Japan Echo Inc., is based on domestic Japanese news sources. It is offered for reference purposes and does not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.)