China isn’t ready for self-driving cars to be on its highways, and is asking manufacturers of those vehicles to keep them off the roads until policies are in place. Those comments came from She Weizhen, head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s automobile division, who added that the department was working on those regulations alongside law enforcement.
She gave no timetable as to when the regulations would be finalized, Bloomberg reports, leaving some in the automobile industry in the country in limbo. There are several companies aiming to bring self-driving cars to China, though some testing is needed. Any self-driving system would need to learn about China’s driving system, including traffic conditions, driving habits, and local signage. That testing can take months or even years, so importing technology from overseas directly isn’t an option, and that has some interests in China a little worried that the country may fall behind.
Despite the protests of the industry, governments are still leery of autonomous cars and their potential safety issues. While they’ve generally performed safely when used in real-world conditions, there having been some notable problems — the May death of a Tesla owner using its Autopilot functionality is the most notable example.
It shouldn’t take too long for China to act, though. Baidu (China’s version of Google) and automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group pressured the government to act back in March, saying quick action would attract investment to China and boost development of the technology in the country. Another company, Chongqing Changan Automobile, recently completed a 1,200-mile trip across the country in April using a combination of radar and cameras installed on the vehicle itself.
Given the state of the self-driving car market right now, and the opportunity to get in on the “ground floor,” regulators will likely want to ensure China is well positioned to take advantage.
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