China’s Ministry of Transport released new comprehensive rules for self-driving cars today, in an effort to regulate the commercial application of autonomous vehicles on China’s roads.
The "Guidelines for the Safety Services of Autonomous Vehicles (Trial)" (hereinafter referred to as the "Guidelines") signifies another important step toward commercial implementation of autonomous vehicles in China. The pace of commercial use of self-driving cars could accelerate, and the standardization and safety management of their operation could be further strengthened.
China has set ambitious goals in autonomous vehicles. The National Comprehensive Three-Dimensional Transportation Network Plan explicitly states that by 2035, China’s autonomous driving technology should reach a world-leading level.
This new set of rules follows the issuance of multiple national and local regulation of the sector. For instance, the Notice on Conducting Pilot Work for the Admission and Road Passage of Intelligent Connected Vehicles issued by various departments previously set the admission standards for L3/L4 autonomous driving, as well as the specific requirements for the commercial operation of autonomous vehicles and freight transportation.
The application of autonomous driving technology is accelerating in China. It has moved from closed-area testing to open road testing, and from pilot demonstrations to commercial trial operations during the past several years.
Cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen have already issued policies allowing autonomous vehicles to conduct commercial trial operations in specific areas and times. These trials involve city public electric buses, taxis, and logistics delivery, and the scale of application is continuously expanding.
The new Guidelines provide detailed regulations for the application of autonomous vehicles in different scenarios. Some notable details include no safety driver testing and accident responsibilities.
Autonomous vehicles must be equipped with a driver or operational safety personnel. Different levels of autonomous vehicles, such as unconditional autonomous driving, conditional autonomous driving, and highly autonomous driving, all require safety drivers.
However, fully autonomous vehicles engaged in taxi passenger transport, under the premise of ensuring safety and with the consent of the government of the designated city, may use remote safety personnel when operating in specified areas without safety drivers. The ratio of remote safety personnel to vehicles must not be less than 1:3.
Many autonomous vehicle companies have already conducted no safety driver testings.
WeRide obtained a license for unmanned Robotaxi testing and began driverless testing in Guangzhou in 2020. In 2022, Baidu received a pilot license for commercial unmanned travel services in Beijing and obtained the first batch of fully unmanned driving licenses in the country.
During the operation of autonomous vehicles, if technical issues, defects, or hidden dangers are discovered, the operators of autonomous driving transportation must report to the relevant departments.
Additionally, to ensure the safe operation of autonomous vehicles, it is mandatory to mark the vehicle’s exterior with prominent patterns, text, or colors to clearly inform other road users of the vehicle’s autonomous driving features.
It is noteworthy that the "Guidelines" require autonomous vehicles engaged in road transportation to have the capability to record, store, and transmit real-time information on the vehicle’s operational status.
This information should be transmitted in real-time to the autonomous driving transport operators and relevant departments, focusing on key operational status data.
In the event of an accident or failure of the autonomous driving function, the system should automatically record and store at least 90 seconds of operational status information from before the incident occurred.