A self-driving car demonstrates how it can steer clear of a cyclist in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, last month.
The nation has completed the first draft of nationwide regulations for road tests of internet-connected vehicles and self-driving cars, as part of the broad push to gain a lead in commercializing such vehicles, according to a source close to the matter.
The regulations, drafted by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, are expected to allow more tests of self-driving vehicles on public roads in different cities across the country and lower Chinese companies' costs of acquiring high-quality data, said Gong Zheng, an engineer at the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a think tank affiliated with the ministry.
"The first draft has already been reviewed by experts from the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Public Security and other institutions, which will play an important part in ensuring safe road tests of such vehicles," said Gong.
In addition to detailing testing requirements for drivers, cars and companies, the regulations will also elaborate on what road sections are suitable for such tests and how they should be reconstructed to build better testing environments for autonomous vehicles, Gong added.
According to him, the regulations are likely to be unveiled this year, but there is not an accurate timetable yet.
The move came shortly after Beijing city authorities greenlit road tests of self-driving cars in the capital in mid-December. But the national regulations will apply to all cities across the country.
John Zeng, managing director of the consulting firm LMC Automotive Shanghai, said, in comparison with regulations unveiled by different provinces or cities, a nationwide one would lower the costs involved for automotive companies, as they would not need to repeat self-driving tests in multiple cities.
"It shows the central government realizes that unified standards are key to accelerating the development of autonomous vehicles, and it will also help to avoid the missteps made in promoting new-energy vehicles," Zeng added.
China expects intelligent cars with partial or fully autonomous functions to account for 50 percent of new vehicles sold in the country by 2020, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.
So far, many Chinese companies have conducted self-driving road tests in California. But traffic situations in the United States and China differ considerably, and a local test is crucial in ensuring fully localized smart transportation solutions, according to both Gong and Zeng.