China Eases Rules on Autonomous Car Road Tests

Local jurisdictions have been given more leeway to arrange road tests for self-driving vehicles.


By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and Ministry of Transport (MOT) have jointly issued new national guidelines for testing autonomous, internet-connected cars. Effective May 1, the new rules give local authorities more leeway to arrange road tests for self-driving vehicles.

The automation level of the self-driving cars under the new national rules includes those vehicles considered L3, L4, and L5 under the definition of levels of automation as outlined by SAE International.

Chinese car manufacturer Baidu received licenses from local authorities in Beijing last March to conduct open road tests of its autonomous driving cars in designated areas of the city. New national rules now have been issued largely based on these local regulations. (Source: Baidu)

Provincial and municipal governments can evaluate local conditions to choose test areas for autonomous cars, issue license plates, and need only brief the MIIT, MPS, and MOT twice a year on the road tests, according to the guidelines. These guidelines include:

Requirements on test vehicles:

  •  To be able to switch between self-driving and conventional modes of driving so as to ensure the test driver can swiftly take over in case of a malfunction or emergency.
  • Testing groups must be able to monitor the status of the test vehicle online and transfer, in real time, information relating to 1) the control model of the test vehicle, 2) vehicle location, and 3) vehicle speed and acceleration speed.
  • Must be able to automatically record and store specified information for a period of at least 90 seconds prior to an accident or malfunction. This data must be stored at least three years.
  • Should not yet be registered with the authority but must satisfy all statutory testing requirements except for endurance. If any statutory testing requirement isn’t met because of the self-driving function, then the applicant must prove that safety hasn’t been jeopardized.
  • Self-driving functions must be tested and verified by third-party testing institutes recognized by authorities, and a detailed list of items to be tested and verified set out and sent in an attachment to these authorities.
  • Test applicants can only conduct tests on designated roads, during a designated period and for designated items. No vehicles can be tested on roads without a temporary car license plate.
  • Self-driving mode can only be used for the testing roads specified in the testing notice letter; the test vehicle must be driven by the test driver on non-testing roads.

Test driver requirements:

  • A test driver is still required to monitor vehicles even at L5 level. A test driver must always sit in the driver seat of the test vehicle, and monitor the status of the test vehicle and driving environment at all times.
  • Drivers must hold a valid driving license with at least three years of unblemished driving experience.
  • Drivers must have a good technical understanding of the self-driving testing program and vehicle-operation methods.
  • Drivers can be either an employee or an individual engaged by the test applicant.
  • A test driver must be able to take over the test vehicle in case he/she notices that the vehicle isn’t suitable for self-driving mode or if the systems request human driver intervention.

According to MIIT, an applicant for road testing must be an independent legal entity registered in China and in the business of auto or component manufacturing, technology, R&D, or vehicle testing. In addition, the applicant must have an assessment program in place; remote monitoring capability; and must be able to record, analyze, and recreate any incidents involving the test vehicles. The testing organization must have the financial capability for personal injury and property damage during the testing.

MIIT said foreign companies can apply for road tests in China, provided they put safety first and are willing to assume full responsibility for any accidents. The regulatory groups MIIT, MPS, and MOT said they will jointly issue information on self-driving car road testing on a regular basis.

Previously, local authorities in Beijing made that city the first in China to give a go-ahead to road-testing autonomous cars. In March, Baidu, named by the Chinese government to lead its development of self-driving cars, received the first batch of license plates to conduct trials. The city of Shanghai also has issued licenses for self-driving cars from electric-car startup NIO and the state-owned SAIC Motor.

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