Draft guideline on use of self-driving vehicles for public transport issued

China has released the first national draft guideline on the use of self-driving vehicles for public transport, a key move in accelerating the large-scale commercialization of autonomous driving technology and encouraging local authorities to formulate relevant management policies, industry experts said. The country will encourage the use of self-driving vehicles such as buses in an enclosed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and allow autonomous vehicles to offer taxi services under simple and relatively controllable scenarios, according to draft rules published by the Ministry of Transport. The authorities are asking for public opinion or reactions to the guideline through September 7.

“The national draft rules on self-driving vehicles are expected to better regulate the whole industry, providing a reference and guidance for local authorities that have yet to issue similar guidelines,” said Zhang Xiang, Researcher at the Automobile Industry Innovation Research Center at the North China University of Technology in Beijing. The draft regulation classified autonomous vehicles into three types: conditionally, highly, and fully autonomous vehicles, depending on the degree of their autonomous capacity. Conditionally and highly autonomous vehicles should have human drivers. Remote drivers or safety supervisors are required for fully autonomous vehicles. In addition, safety should be the top priority in the management of self-driving vehicles, according to the draft. The routes of autonomous vehicles should be far away from densely populated areas such as schools, hospitals and large shopping malls.

Local governments in Wuhan and Chongqing’s Yongchuan district granted Baidu the country’s first permits to offer fully driverless commercial robotaxi services to the public on open roads. Apollo Go, the name of Baidu’s autonomous ride-hailing service, is authorized to charge fares for robotaxi services without human drivers and safety supervisors in the car in designated areas. Some local governments have already rolled out supportive policies to promote the commercialization of autonomous driving technology. In July, Beijing launched China’s first pilot area for commercial autonomous driving vehicle services. Baidu and self-driving startup Pony.ai are the first enterprises granted permission, and they will offer paid robotaxi services, without a safety operator behind the steering wheel, within a 60 square kilometer area in Yizhuang, a southern suburb of Beijing, the China Daily reports.