China Reveals Self-Driving Vehicles Safety Guidelines

The guidelines cover autonomous vehicles used for public transportation

Graham Hope

December 15, 2023

3 Min Read
A view from inside a self-driving minibus during its trial operation in Guangzhou China
STR/AFP via Getty Images

China has issued a set of national safety guidelines for the use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in a move that is expected to accelerate their use across the country.

The guidelines cover AVs used in public transport, including buses and self-driving taxis, as well as cargo vehicles.

And they are set to form the basis of a regulatory framework that will be applied across the entire country. Until now, much of the regulation of AVs has been left to local authorities, with some cities, such as the tech hub Shenzhen, leading the way.

The new guidelines provide an interesting insight into how the authorities envisage AVs operating in the future across China. 

Although the country seems to be making swifter progress in the rollout of AVs than the United States, the perception that this is down to a more relaxed regulatory landscape is challenged by several rules that make clear China has no intention of creating a free-for-all for operators.

Indeed, the deployment scenarios are fairly prescriptive, with buses and trams only permitted on “physically closed, relatively closed, or fixed routes with simple road conditions.”

Autonomous cargo transportation, meanwhile, will only be allowed point-to-point on trunk roads and on urban roads where “traffic safety can be controlled.” In addition, it will be prohibited to use self-driving vehicles to transport dangerous goods.

Related:Driverless Cars Face Trailblazing New Regulations in China

There are also specific requirements for human safety operators. Buses and trams will need to have one on board, as will cargo vehicles – although for the latter, the rules are “in principle” rather than set in stone.

Self-driving taxis that are either “conditionally or highly autonomous” will also require a safety operator on board, contrasting with driverless fully autonomous taxis, which can be monitored by staff sited remotely – although each individual can only monitor up to three taxis at any one time.

The Chinese approach to AV accidents makes for interesting reading too, bearing in mind the fallout from the crash involving a Cruise self-driving taxi in San Francisco in October – and subsequent suggestions that the General Motors subsidiary was not wholly transparent about the circumstances, withholding video of the incident. 

Such a scenario will not be able to arise in China, where the guidelines state that AVs must transmit operating status information “in real time” to operators and the relevant local authorities. 

This information includes 360-degree exterior video monitoring, in-car audio and remote control instructions. In the event of a crash, the information for at least the preceding 90 seconds must be recorded and stored.

Safety is also addressed, with an obligation for self-driving cars to feature “eye-catching patterns, text or colors on their bodies” to clearly inform other road users of their status.

The guidelines have been issued to all provinces and municipalities that have been asked to implement them.

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About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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