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Local Governments One Step Closer to Regulating Autonomous Vehicle Rollouts

Local Governments One Step Closer to Regulating Autonomous Vehicle Rollouts

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

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

4/23/2024

Updated: 4/30/2024

Local governments in California are closer to having a say in how autonomous vehicle (AV) companies operate in their communities after a recent vote by a California Senate committee.
Senate Bill 915, authored by San Jose-based Sen. Dave Cortese, would allow such governments to pass ordinances to regulate how, when, or where AVs can operate to address public safety concerns that have arisen since their recent launch.
The bill passed the Local Government Committee on April 17 and is waiting to be heard by the Transportation Committee.
“City councils and county boards of supervisors adopt ordinances on any given week, nimbly and with local accountability. ... Under SB 915, the rules of the road will continue to be established and enforced by the people who live there,” Mr. Cortese said in a January statement announcing his bill.
In March, state regulators approved the application of the driverless car service Waymo to expand in parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco. The approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) came despite pushback from Los Angeles City and San Mateo County officials who said Waymo barely spoke with them about their expansion plans.
“To date, local jurisdictions like Los Angeles have had little to no input in [AV] deployment and are already seeing significant harm and disruption,” Mayor Karen Bass said in a November 2023 letter to the PUC before Waymo received final approval.
According to Mr. Cortese, the state opened testing of the vehicles without addressing local jurisdictions’ safety concerns and law enforcement’s ability to ticket the vehicles for moving violations.
In response, SB 915 would offer local governments the option to approve the permitting of AVs in their area, govern the fares on robotaxis and the number of them on the road, and authorize local police to enforce traffic laws on the vehicle companies.
A local ordinance could restrict AV services in pedestrian-concentrated areas such as schools, Mr. Cortese stated, and tech companies could be required to regularly inspect their AVs.
The bill follows the design of existing law that enables local governments to pass ordinances regulating taxis, according to Mr. Cortese’s office, and is co-sponsored by the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the League of California Cities.
Recent incidents that sounded alarms for lawmakers include the California Department of Motor Vehicles in March suspending the company Cruise’s deployment and testing of AV permits after a “severe accident” between a Cruise car and a pedestrian, according to the same announcement.
In February, Waymo announced a recall of its software for its robotaxis after two of its vehicles crashed into the same truck minutes apart in Arizona in December 2023, according to media reports.
A self-driving Nuro vehicle is parked outside a supermarket as part of a pilot program using driverless cars to deliver groceries, in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Aug. 16, 2018. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

A self-driving Nuro vehicle is parked outside a supermarket as part of a pilot program using driverless cars to deliver groceries, in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Aug. 16, 2018. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Also in February, one of Waymo’s driverless vehicles was attacked by a mob and destroyed in San Francisco’s Chinatown, with fireworks lit inside and graffiti tagged on the vehicle before it caught fire.
After the recent approval by the Local Government Committee, the Teamsters union commended lawmakers and said the bill would make communities safer.
“Right now, local communities have zero control over the dangerous autonomous vehicles on their roads. SB 915 will help fix this broken system and keep our communities safe by giving municipalities a voice in the deployment of AVs,” said Chris Griswold, at-large president for Teamsters International and president of Teamsters Joint Council 42.
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

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Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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