On Monday, Chinese officials published a set of draft rules that will allow self-driving companies to offer rides and charge fees for fully autonomous vehicles (AVs). The move is part of the country’s ongoing efforts to become a global leader in artificial intelligence. The same day, Baidu announced it was to launch a fully driverless robotaxi service in two major Chinese cities.

Why it matters: The release of China’s first guidelines for commercial robotaxi services could establish a state framework for the rollout of self-driving technology and increase the number of AVs on Chinese roads.

Details: Published by the Ministry of Transport on Monday, the draft regulation said that authorities would “encourage the deployment of autonomous buses on limited access highways, as well as allow paid taxi-hailing services using self-driving cars for low-traffic, controllable scenarios” (our translation).

  • The government did not outline detailed criteria for the environmental conditions under which an automated vehicle is designed to operate but said that driving routes must be selected to avoid highly populated sites such as schools and supermarkets.
  • Also, the rules emphasized that robotaxi companies must deploy their automated vehicles with drivers based on different levels of vehicle automation. The rules stipulated L3 and L4 level cars need a human operator, while L5 (fully automated cars) cars need either a remote driver or an in-car safety driver. The rules also asked all cars to suspend operations in adverse weather conditions.
  • In addition, the companies are obliged to record and share with the government the data logs generated by cars and drivers at least 90 seconds before and 30 seconds after any self-driving malfunctions. These logs must include in-car video footage and pictures of the surrounding environment.
  • The draft will be open to public feedback until Sep. 7.

Context: China first began allowing autonomous driving road tests on designated streets in April 2018 and then expanded the testing scope to general highways in early 2021. 

  • Several major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou have greenlighted self-driving car tests for passenger transport services over the past several years.
  • Earlier this month, the city government of Shenzhen also passed new legislation that addresses the liability issues in accidents involving cars with self-driving capabilities.
  • The central city of Wuhan and the southwestern municipality of Chongqing are the latest Chinese megacities to take a significant step towards the driverless car era, recently allowing Baidu to charge fees for rides using its driverless vehicles.

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