China moves into passing lane with self-driving regs

In the race to be a global leader in self-driving cars, China is moving to overtake the current U.S. and European front runners with a new regulatory structure that could significantly open up its vast network of roads and streets.

Australia’s SBS reports that China is preparing a draft regulatory framework on self-driving cars that could be ready as early as this year. The regulations are expected to pave the way for autonomous vehicles that will appear on China’s highways in three to five years, and then in Chinese cities by 2025, according to the chair of the committee preparing the framework Li Keqiang.

China’s powerful Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is backing the committee tasked with developing the draft framework that will feature a unified regulatory structure for the whole country. Such a holistic regulatory framework could prove highly advantageous compared to the current patchwork of U.S. state standards and laws for self-driving cars. The plan will include infrastructure and regulatory guidelines as well as technical standards that will see autonomous vehicles communicating in a common language. The committee chair sees this unified approach to the burgeoning technology as giving China an advantage that could allow it to leapfrog its Western competitors to a much quicker rollout of self-driving cars.

“If we can convince the government that every company, every car on the road must use this (single standard) … then there is a chance China can beat the rest of the world” to broad integration of autonomous vehicles, said the leader of Chongqing Changan Automobile’s autonomous drive program Li Yusheng.

China can centralize its rule-making

Unlike the U.S. and other Western markets that face chaotic regulatory regimes for self-driving cars, China’s new top-down approach to developing a unified regulatory framework could give it a significant competitive edge. Multinational car-makers, who up until now have largely developed industry standards among themselves in the vacuum of universal regulations, could soon have a harmonized playbook to tackle the self-driving car market in China.

And that market is going to be a global game changer.

China is currently the world’s largest automobile market and, according to Boston Consulting, in 20 years it will be the largest market for autonomous vehicle features, encompassing at least 25% of demand worldwide.

Part of China’s autonomous vehicle growth potential is related to the population being more open to self-driving cars in their daily life than western countries. A 2015 study found that 75% of Chinese residents would be comfortable using an autonomous vehicle, compared to just 50% of U.S. people surveyed.

As well, widespread integration of self-driving cars could address several of China’s quality of life problems, such as crippling air pollution, traffic congestion and erratic driving that sees more than 200,000 people die in road accidents each year.

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