On 11 April 2018, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and Ministry of Transport (MOT) jointly issued the Administrative Rules on Intelligent and Connected Vehicle Road Testing (Trial) (the “National Rules”).
The National Rules have been issued subsequent to local regulations on self-driving car road testing being issued in Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing in recent months (“Local Regulations”), and will take effect 1 May 2018.
The National Rules are based on both best practices in other jurisdictions as well as some of the initiatives pioneered in the Local Regulations. The National Rules stress safety which is no doubt a response the Uber accident fatality in Arizona.
The key requirements of the National Rules are as follows:
The MIIT, MPS and MOT will be the competent regulators for self-driving car road testing (“Regulators”). They will jointly issue information on self-driving car road testing on a regular basis. Local authorities will submit reports on self-driving car road testing in their respective provinces to the Regulators including any accidents that have occurred.
Test applicants under the National Rules refer to any entity that applies for self-driving car road testing, organizes testing and is responsible for testing activities.
Similar to the Local Regulations, an applicant for road testing must be an independent legal entity registered in China that is in the business of auto or component manufacturing, technology or R&D or vehicle testing. In addition the applicant must have an assessment program in place and remote monitoring capability and must be able to record, analyze and remake the incident of the test vehicles.
In addition, the National Rules further require that the testing applicant should have the financial capability for personal injury and property damage during the testing.
Requirements for test driver
Similar to the Local Regulations, a test driver must hold a valid driving license with at least 3-years unblemished driving experience and have a good technical understanding of the self-driving testing program and operation methods.
The National Rules further specify that a test driver can be either an employee or an individual engaged by the test applicant.
Requirements on test vehicles
The requirements on the test vehicles under the National Rules are largely the same under the Local Regulations.
Test vehicles cover passenger and commercial cars but not low-speed vehicles or motor cycles.
Test vehicles should not yet be registered with the authority but must satisfy all statutory testing requirements except for endurance. If any statutory testing requirement is not met due to the self-driving function then the applicant must prove that safety has not been jeopardized.
Test vehicles are required 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.
Test vehicles must also be able to monitor the status of the test vehicle online and transfer in real time information relating to (i) the control model of the test vehicle, (ii) vehicle location and (iii) vehicle speed and acceleration speed.
In addition, test vehicles must also be able to automatically record and store specified information for the period at least 90 seconds prior to an accident or malfunction. The National Rules make it clear that such data should be stored at least 3 years. Local Regulations in Shanghai and Chongqing do not have such requirements.
The National Rules require that the self-driving function of the test vehicles must be tested and verified by third-party testing institutes recognized by authorities and a detailed list of items to be tested and verified has been set out in an attachment to the National Rules.
The National Rules provide that the local authorities at provincial level should select suitable roads for self-driving car road testing and should make the information available to the public.
A test applicant should provide application materials to the local authorities at provincial level for examination. Among the materials required, a test applicant must provide evidence that it has purchased compulsory traffic accident insurance required under PRC traffic law and also evidence that it has purchased minimum traffic accident insurance of RMB 5 million or provide an equivalent letter of guarantee for each test vehicle.
The National Rules also require that the local authorities should issue a test notice letter to qualified test applicants which specifies details such as the test applicant, test vehicles, test drivers, test period, test road and test items. The test period will generally be for no longer than 18 months. In contrast, Local Regulations have a shorter test period for example in Shanghai it is only 6 months with a potential extension for another 6 months.
Test vehicles will be issued with temporary car plates. These plates are to be returned to the authorities upon expiration of the test period.
Notably, the National Rules specify that if a test vehicle has a temporary car plate in one province needs to be tested on the road in another province, then a new temporary car plate in the latter province should be obtained unless this requirement is waived locally.
Testing process regulation
Test applicants can only conduct tests on designated roads, in designated period and for designated items. No vehicles can be tested on roads without a temporary car plate.
The National Rules specify that a test driver must always sit in the driver seat of the test vehicle; monitor the status of the test vehicle and the driving environment at all times.
A test driver must be able to take over the test vehicle in case he/she notices that the vehicle is not suitable for self-driving mode or if the systems request human driver’s intervention.
In addition, self-driving mode can only be used for the testing roads specified in the testing notice letter and the test vehicle must be driven by the test driver on non-testing roads.
The said requirements are stricter than that of the Local Regulations and aim to ensure test drivers pay full attention to monitoring the test vehicle and minimize the risk of an accident.
As is the case with the Local Regulations, test drivers and test applicants are liable for any violation of traffic laws and are liable for any traffic accidents caused.
In case of an accident which causes serious personal injury, death or vehicle damage, the test applicant must submit a report to the local provincial authority within 24 hours. In turn the local authority is required to submit a report to the Regulators within a further 3 working days.
Within 5 working days after liability has been determined for the accident, the test applicant must submit an accident report to the local provincial authorities. In turn the local authority will submit the report to the Regulators within 5 further working days.
Automation level of self-driving cars
Under the National Rules, intelligent and connected vehicles are also referred to as being smart or self-driving vehicles.
The automation level of the self-driving cars under the National Rules includes conditional automation, high-level automation and full automation. These are generally understood to refer to L3, L4 and L5 under the definition of levels of automation as outlined by SAE International. Under the National Rules, self-driving cars refer to L3- L5 vehicles. A test driver is still required to monitor vehicles even at L5 level.
The issuing of the National Rules adds further momentum to China’s regulations in respect of road testing for autonomous vehicles and paves the way for increased road testing of self-driving cars across China. It seems that little will slow down the development and commercialization of autonomous vehicles in China.
The National Rules are just one indication of China’s ambitions to lead the world in this new technology. Chinese president Xi Jinping also stated at the Boao Forum on 10 April 2018 that there were plans to further open up China’s economy including relaxing foreign investment restrictions in the auto sector. Having support at the highest level bodes well for the development of autonomous cars in China.