Road Test

Traffic congestion on a highway

Transformation of China's economy and society has accelerated rapidly over the past few decades. Perhaps nowhere is that as visible as the change in modes of private transportation, where the bicycle has been dethroned in favor of automobiles. Fig1

Gone are the days of photos showing thousands of bicyclists pushing off from stoplights and flooding the streets of Beijing or Shanghai. Today, the highways, byways, and avenues of China's cities swarm with private automobiles.

The change has been rapid and profound. In 2001 China had 18 million vehicles, of which 5 million were cars, according to a study by the U.S. National Research Council and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. By 2004, China Daily-an English-language newspaper recognized as authoritative in matters of state policy-observed that the nation was reaching “the end of its status as the world's 'bicycle kingdom' as an emerging middle class increasingly forgoes the clean and energy efficient transport in favour of the car.”

Data recently released by the Ministry of Public Security indicated that passenger car ownership in the People's Republic of China (PRC) had reached 120 million by the end of 2012. Last year, Xinhua news declared that China's “'two-wheel dream' has been upgraded to a 'four-wheel dream.'”

Forbes recently reported that car sales jumped by 21.6 percent during the first quarter of 2013, following a modest-for China-growth of 7.7 percent in 2012.

And China has room to grow-if perhaps not always room to drive with its low rate of car ownership among its 1.3-billion population.

Putting Wheels under Driving Exams

But where some people see a traffic jam, others see a market opportunity. Where and how will those millions of new car-owners obtain drivers licenses to operate their vehicles. And where and how will they learn how to drive so that they can pass the driving tests? Fig2

That's where Chinese system developer Beijing StarNeto Technology, Beijing BDStar Navigation Co., and NovAtel come in.

Based on NovAtel GNSS technology, Star-Neto has designed and fielded an automated driving examination and training system that is seeing rapid uptake by China's national police agency responsible for licensing drivers. The company sees and equal or even greater opportunity in sales to the drivers training centers spring up in cities around the nation.

According to Lu Yu, NovAtel's chief representative in China, 20 million cars are made and sold in China each year. Currently, 200 million drivers have licenses and 20 to 30 million more become eligible for drivers licenses each year.

And recent regulatory changes in China have made the opportunity even more accessible to StarNeto's solution.

Last year, the PRC passed a law-effective January 1, 2013-that required the use of automated systems for evaluating applicants for driver's licenses undertaking driving tests on a surveyed course at the licensing facility. Fig3The systems must be able to automatically monitor and evaluate a driver's performance in such tasks as avoiding obstacles, backing into a parking space, starting and parking on a slope, passing obstacles, curved driving, parallel parking, making right-angle turns, and so forth.

These automated tests comprise one portion of a three-part licensing examination. The other two elements are a written test and a driving test on public roads.