More than 100 million drivers in China are now equipped with electronic toll collection (ETC) devices to pay automatically when driving on the country’s highways. The system will act as a platform for smart road technology in the future as well as autonomous vehicles.

Why it matters: The role of ETC is beginning to shift from a payment method to a way to connect vehicles amid a broader government push toward a national intelligent transport system for connected cars.

  • Uses of in-vehicle ETC devices include the collection of data on route choices and emergency brake usage. These can help to predict traffic patterns and possible accidents.
  • They are a crucial part of connecting vehicles and road infrastructure in a smart traffic management system, said Luo Ruifa, chairman of the country’s leading ETC device maker Genvict last month.

Details: The number of drivers in China using ETC devices is expected to grow a further 40% to 180 million by the end of this year, China’s Ministry of Transport said on Tuesday.

  • Around 2,500 highways nationwide that have been under construction will adopt ETC machines, and nearly one-fifth are now complete, the ministry said.
  • Beijing has taken a series of measures to meet the ambitious target of equipping 90% cars with ETC machines this year, including free installations and 5% discounts on tolls.
  • Last year, only 30% of the country’s 240 million vehicles adopted ETC, compared with around 90% in western countries.

Context: China is working on deploying 5G-enabled C-V2X networks to link vehicles, road infrastructure, and passengers as the technology of choice for the commercialization of smart connected cars.

  • Patrick Little, a senior vice president at Qualcomm, called for common standards and a long-term road map for vehicle connection in western countries in a recent interview.
  • The world’s first C-V2X-connected cars are expected to hit the road in China this year, according to the 5G Automotive Association.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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