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Los Angeles City Council Votes to Monitor Driverless Vehicles

Los Angeles City Council Votes to Monitor Driverless Vehicles

A Waymo driverless car in San Francisco on Feb. 20, 2024. (Steve Jennings/Getty Images)

City News Service
City News Service

6/11/2024

Updated: 6/11/2024

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LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles City Council voted June 11 to bolster its ability to monitor and potentially regulate driverless vehicles in the city.
In a 13–0 vote, council members approved recommendations to monitor and address issues with what are also known as autonomous vehicles (AVs), and backed three state bills aimed at providing municipalities more power to regulate AVs and gain access to testing data.
Council members Katy Yaroslavsky and Curren Price were absent during the vote.
Los Angeles World Airports, the city Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles Fire Department are expected to issue quarterly reports to the council on the deployment of AVs in the city, and will provide proposals to rectify any issues that may come up.
The city’s chief legislative analyst brought the recommendations forward after the council adopted a motion introduced by council members Traci Park and Bob Blumenfield in November 2023. The motion called for details about local, state and federal laws that govern the use of AVs, options for the city to gain access to testing data, and opportunities to support legislation that would empower Los Angeles elected officials in regulating AVs within city limits.
In March, the California Public Utilities Commission authorized the AV company Waymo to expand its operations in the Los Angeles area. The company then launched Waymo One, a driverless ride-hailing service in a 63-square mile area stretching from Santa Monica and Venice to downtown Los Angeles.
Waymo had been testing some of its vehicles in Los Angeles since October 2023, and company officials had said more than 15,000 such rides occurred during that time. Waymo had already offered service in San Francisco and Phoenix, and in addition to Los Angeles, the company has begun operations in Austin, Texas.
Some questions have been raised about the safety of the AV technology.
The Los Angeles Times reported that a Waymo vehicle struck a closing gate at USC. Company officials told The Times the car had just dropped off passengers and was leaving the campus when it approached the gate, which closed on the car, causing some minor scratches.
The Times also reported that during a ride taken by some of its journalists, the car would sometimes stop to drop people off in front of driveways, even as other cars were trying to exit. They noted that there was no way to instruct the vehicle to pull away from the driveway.
Waymo has released data that showed its vehicles experience an 85 percent reduction in injury-causing crashes and a 57 percent reduction in police-reported crash rates compared with human-driven vehicles. Waymo compiled the data from 7.14 million miles of autonomous vehicle rides conducted in the Los Angeles area, Phoenix and San Francisco.
The U.S. National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to investigate vehicle crashes and ensure that vehicle manufacturers comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards. In 2021, the agency was given the authority to monitor safety of AV technology.
In California, a limited number of AV companies are allowed to test, research and pilot AV programs on public streets in designated locations as a result of SB 1298, authored by then-state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012.
Under the bill, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has the power to regulate the testing and deployment of AV technology. In addition, the California PUC has jurisdiction over passenger safety and businesses that transport passengers, such as buses and trains, and rideshare app companies like Uber and Lyft.
In 2018, the commission began two AV pilot programs, which allow companies to operate AV technology with the requirement that permits be obtained from the DMV and that operators comply with DMV regulations.
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