On 15 December 2017, Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, Beijing Traffic Management Bureau and Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology jointly issued the Beijing Guidance on Accelerating Road Testing for Self-driving Vehicles (Trial) and Beijing Implementing Rules for Managing Road Testing for Self-driving Vehicles (Trial) (collectively “Regulations”)[1].

While the Regulations only apply to testing of autonomous vehicles in Beijing, this is something of a milestone as it is the first regulation of its kind in China.

The Regulations may have been spurred in part by Baidu CEO Li Yanhong’s test drive of Baidu’s autonomous vehicle on public roads in July 2017. At the time this test drive was the cause of some controversy as it was wholly unregulated.

A review of the Regulations show that the legislators have borrowed concepts of good practice from leading jurisdictions including the United States, Germany and Australia.

The key points and requirements of the Regulations are as follows:

Who can apply for testing?

The Regulations set out that independent legal entities registered in China can apply for autonomous vehicle road testing. Accordingly applicants must be registered in China and able to be independently liable.

Who is the regulatory body?

Under the Regulations, an autonomous vehicle testing regulatory body (“Regulatory Body”) will be jointly established by Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, Beijing Traffic Management Bureau and Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology. The Regulatory Body will be in charge of implementing the road tests in Beijing.

In addition an expert committee will be set up by this Regulatory Body to assess applications and a third party institute (“Authorized Third Party Institute”) will be authorized to supervise the whole process of road testing (including examining applications, organizing expert assessments, test tracking, data collection and daily supervision).

What are the application requirements?

1. Testing Applicant

Pursuant to the Regulations, an applicant must purchase minimum traffic accident insurance of RMB 5 million or provide an equivalent letter of guarantee for each test vehicle.

Applicants are required to conduct road testing within the prescriptive range in closed test fields recognized by the Regulatory Body and also need to accept daily supervision by the Regulatory Body or Authorized Third Party Institute.

2. Test Vehicles

Test vehicles must be equipped with self-driving systems and be able to switch between self-driving and conventional modes of driving so as to ensure drivers can quickly take over in case of a malfunction or if the vehicle gives a warning. Applicant can apply for a maximum of five test vehicles per application.

In addition test vehicles must be equipped with:

  • Monitoring devices that monitor driving behavior, collect vehicle location information and monitor whether a vehicle is in self-driving mode.
  • Warning devices to enable drivers to be fully aware as to the operational status of the self-driving system.
  • Data recording devices so that in case of collision or if the vehicles is out of control then such recording devices must be able to record data for the period of time of 60 seconds before the incident until the time the vehicle comes to a halt.
  • A testing applicant can apply for no more than five vehicles for testing in one time application.

3. Test driver

Test drivers must be employees of the applicant that hold a driving license with at least 3-years unblemished driving experience as well as a good technical understanding of the self-driving system, test vehicle and test systems.

Test driver must sit in the driver seat and obey all traffic laws.

How is test process regulated?

A test applicant can only conduct tests on designated roads and during designated hours.

Applicants must apply for a temporary license plate for the test vehicle within 30 days of approval. Any material upgrade or changes in the autonomous driving system or test vehicles within the valid period of the temporary plate will require a new application.

Applicants are required to submit a report on a monthly basis to the Regulatory Body (or the Authorized Third Party Institute) any disengagement by the test vehicles from the self-driving mode. In case of a disengagement from the self-driving mode, the self-driving data recorded 30 seconds before the disengagement occurred also needs to be submitted.

The applicant needs to store the operational data of the test vehicles for at least three years.

How to deal with traffic accidents?

Under the Regulations, test drivers are liable for any violation of traffic laws and will be liable for any traffic accident caused by a test vehicle. Given test drivers are employees of the applicant, the liability for accident will ultimately be borne by the applicant.

In case of an accident, the applicant is required to submit to the Regulatory Body all data recorded within the last 24 hours and provide a report within 10 calendar days in the prescribed form outlining full details of the accident. After liability has been determined by the traffic authority the applicant will need to submit additional reports to the Regulatory Body on final analysis and results.

Failing to observe such requirements may result in cancellation of qualifications of all test vehicles and being barred from submitting a new application for a period of one year.

Summary

The release of the Regulations is a concrete step in China’s regulation on road testing of autonomous vehicles. This will no doubt boost the development of autonomous vehicles and speed the commercialization of autonomous vehicles in China. The Regulations also facilitate China’s autonomous vehicle road testing. We expect more regions to follow Beijing’s lead and compete for innovation in this key sector.