Driverless Cars in California Immune From Traffic Tickets Under Current Laws: Report

Driverless Cars in California Immune From Traffic Tickets Under Current Laws: Report

A Waymo autonomous vehicle on Steiner Street in San Francisco on Nov. 17, 2023. (Jason Henry/AFP via Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

11/25/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Autonomous cars driving city streets in California have run red lights, blocked emergency vehicles, and injured a pedestrian. But can they get tickets from police officers?
Probably not, according to some experts.
An investigative report by NBC Bay Area found the state’s law enforcement was unable to cite the driverless vehicles. In California, traffic tickets can only be written if someone is driving the car, according to the report.
In an internal memo from San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, obtained by NBC, he instructs officers that “no citation for a moving violation can be issued if the [vehicle] is being operated in a driverless mode.”
“Technology evolves rapidly and, at times, faster than legislation or regulations can adapt to the changes,” Mr. Scott said in the memo.
Michael Stephenson, founder and senior attorney at Bay Area Bicycle Law, a law firm that specializes in representing cyclists, told the news station that driverless vehicles don’t fit into the state’s current legal framework.
“We’re perhaps trying to shove a square peg into a round hole,” Stephenson said. “We are very much in the wild west when it comes to driverless cars.”
California has become a testing ground for the newest vehicle technology in recent years. Several companies, including Cruise, Waymo, and Apple, have tested robotaxis and driverless vehicles in the state.
The DMV has received 673 autonomous vehicle collision reports as of Nov. 10, the agency reported on its website.
In San Francisco, Cruise’s robotaxi service was forced to end operations after the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended the company’s permits.
In October, a woman was trapped under a driverless car operated by Cruise, a self-driving taxi company based in San Francisco. The woman was in a crosswalk when the light turned green. She was first struck by a human-driven car and thrown onto the pavement in front of the Cruise taxi, which ran her over. The taxi stopped on top of her then dragged her to the side of the road before first responders rescued her.
The incident was the latest in a series of accidents involving Cruise vehicles. As a result, the DMV found the vehicles were “not safe for the public’s operation,” the agency stated Oct. 24.
Co-founder and chief executive officer of Cruise, Kyle Vogt, resigned this month after the company paused its driverless-taxi operations nationwide.
Another autonomous taxi service operated in California by Waymo has services in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. In San Francisco and Phoenix, the public can hail its taxis around the clock using a phone app, while Angelenos can only get a temporary code to try the service at this time, according to the company.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

Author

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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