Following Guangzhou’s pilot program that allowed connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to carry passengers at the end of 2018, more Chinese cities have started promulgating new road testing rules to give the green light to self-driving vehicles undertaking passenger-carrying road tests. In this blog post we consider these recent regulatory changes and how they may affect the future commercialisation of CAVs in China.
Recent regulatory developments in China include the following:
|Implementation date||Local authorities||Title|
|25 December 2018||Guangzhou||Guidance on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Road Testing, Chapter 6 “Passenger-carrying testing”|
|27 June 2019||Changsha||Implementing Rules on Changsha Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Road Testing Management V2.0, Chapter 6 “Passenger-carrying testing”|
|11 September 2019||Shanghai||Management Measures on Shanghai Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Road Testing and Pilot Materialization*, Chapter 5 “Application and Assessment of Pilot Materialization”|
* Pilot Materialization refers to CAVs that carry people, goods or undertake special tasks for non-profit purposes.
Robotaxis have been the focus of passenger-carrying testing of self-driving vehicles in recent times. In November 2018, an AI-powered mobility company WeRide launched the first L4 robotaxi in China, and commenced trial passenger-carrying operations on Guangzhou International Biotech Island. In June 2019, Baidu also procured permits from the local government of Changsha to use its self-driving cars to pick up passengers. On 16 September 2019, the Shanghai government granted CAVs Pilot Materialization permits to Chinese automaker SAIC motor group, Germany’s BMW, and ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing which allowed them to offer pilot robotaxi services in the north western Jiading district of Shanghai. It is also reported that the local government of Wuhan issued licences on 22 September 2019, allowing companies to operate autonomous vehicles for commercial uses, including robotaxi services. However, such licences are not provided for in the current Wuhan CAV road testing rules. As a result of this growing trend of road testing for passenger-carrying CAVs, it is expected that more Chinese cities will race to catch up by implementing similar regulations and issue the necessary permits.
The recent embrace of road testing of passenger-carrying self-driving vehicles is consistent with the Chinese governments’ increasingly positive attitude toward, and previous endorsement of, autonomous vehicles. Whilst Guangzhou included provision for passenger-carrying testing of self-driving vehicles in its original policy design, both Shanghai and Changsha have now accommodated the need for passenger-carrying testing in their recent updates to the local regulations on CAVs road testing. The Shanghai regulations were initially issued on 22 February 2018, which were expected to expire on 31 December 2019. Changsha’s regulations came into force on 1 May 2018 and were expected to initially be valid for two years. Despite these suggested expiration dates, Shanghai and Changsha both accelerated the suggested timelines and updated their regulations on 11 September 2019 and 27 June 2019, respectively, far in advance of the expected expiration dates.
The content of the regulations concerning passenger-carrying road testing is summarised below:
|Prerequisite Requirements||To obtain the necessary approvals, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Changsha all require testing companies to complete a certain amount of testing over specified distances without causing any traffic accidents or involving any loss of control. Guangzhou requires testing over a minimum of 10,000 km, while Changsha requires the testing company to pass the 1st level test verification and then test for a future 20,000 km.
Shanghai’s rules are more complex as they require:
(1) the testing company to have obtained road testing permits for at least 3 cars in Shanghai;
(2) each car to have been tested, on average, over a 1,000 km distance;
(3) test results to demonstrate that the cars have not caused any traffic accidents or violations of traffic rules; and
(4) the cars to have been examined and successfully completed mandatory tests at least 30 times at the assigned enclosed sites.
|Test roads||Testing is only permitted on assigned roads.|
|Number of cars||Testing companies can apply for permits to test up to 30 cars in their first application in Guangzhou and Changsha, or up to 50 cars in Shanghai. All cities allow testing companies to increase the number of testing cars if their vehicles operate for 6 months without causing any traffic accidents or experience any loss of control. To be eligible for such increase in Shanghai, the applicant should complete testing over a distance of no less than 5,000 km on average for each car.|
|Driver||All cities require that a driver must always be available to take control if needed.|
|Volunteers||All cities allow testing companies to recruit volunteers from the public to participate in test rides. Volunteers must be above the age of 18 and amust be capable of entering into contracts with testing companies.|
|Insurance||All cities require testing companies to provide necessary insurances to the volunteers.|
|Fees||No fees can be charged for testing, and testing companies are not allowed to operate for profit.|
As demonstrated in the table above, the rules in these three cities are generally similar. Guangzhou and Changsha impose more onerous requirements on testing companies who are required to satisfy specific distance thresholds when testing their vehicles, while Shanghai requires each car to be tested over a specific testing distance and pass functional exams. Shanghai also allows testing companies to apply to test more passenger-carrying CAVs in its initial application. As for test roads, to date Guangzhou has opened 45.6 km of roads for testing companies to conduct CAV testing. Shanghai has allowed CAV testing on 53.5 km of roads since 16 September 2019. Changsha, on the other hand, is planning to deploy 100 km of intelligent highways and 135 km of city roads for CAV testing purposes. It is still uncertain whether these roads can be used for passenger-carrying tests, but it is expected that more roads will be available for such purposes in future.
Among all of the passenger-carrying testing regulations presently in force in China, Shanghai’s rules provide the most comprehensive requirements for how passenger-carrying tests can be conducted, and include specific protections for passengers’ privacy, as well as template application forms. It is therefore reasonable to assume that other cities that are currently developing their passenger-carrying testing rules, such as Beijing, will likely model their regulations on Shanghai rules in an effort to promote future commercialisation of CAVs in China.
Despite the increase in passenger-carrying testing, the commercialisation of CAVs has only just commenced in China. Previously all cities prohibited testing companies from charging passengers. This restriction was enforced in 2018, when WeRide attempted to charge passengers in Guangzhou. The Department of Transportation of the Panyu District intervened and banned WeRide’s practices. To further prevent commercialisation, Shanghai requires testing companies to specify the pick-up points and travelling routes in their application forms, which greatly differ from typical taxi-hailing services. As such, the main aim of passenger-carrying testing of self-driving vehicles was primarily to collect passengers’ comments and road testing data. Wuhan’s issue of the commercial use licences marks the next stage of self-driving vehicle use in China.
Apart from the introduction of passenger-carrying road testing permits, some additional points about the new regulations are worth noting. Shanghai’s regulations promote mutual recognition of the testing permits issued by government authorities in adjacent areas. The applicants who have obtained road testing permits in Anhui, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu will be eligible to participate in an expedited application process. Changsha, on the other hand, included a new chapter to allow highway road testing. The highway road testing permits exclude the possibility of carrying passengers and require the applicants to complete tests in enclosed and open testing areas to the satisfaction of government authorities to be eligible for the application.
These recent regulatory changes demonstrate Chinese local governments’ increasing commitment to supporting the development of self-driving cars, with a particular focus on ensuring that CAVs meet specific safety standards.