Uber-inspired bill would crack down on illegal self-driving cars in California

Inspired by Uber’s self-driving car fiasco in San Francisco last month, a local lawmaker wants to add teeth to California’s autonomous vehicle rules.

Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, on Thursday introduced a bill that would allow the state to fine companies up to $25,000 per vehicle per day for operating unauthorized self-driving vehicles. If passed, the law also would prevent those companies from applying for an autonomous vehicle testing permit for two years.

“I applaud our innovation economy and all the companies developing autonomous vehicle technology, but no community should face what we did in San Francisco,” Ting wrote in a news release. “The pursuit of innovation does not include a license to put innocent lives at risk. Nearly every company knows and acts like it is part of a community.  They follow the law.  We need stronger enforcement tools to protect ourselves from those recklessly putting profit before public safety.”

San Francisco-based Uber launched a fleet of self-driving cars in its hometown last month, sending them to pick up passengers on city streets. Each car, capable of steering, braking and accelerating on its own, had a driver behind the wheel ready to take control if needed. But Uber refused to apply for the $150 permit the California Department of Motor Vehicles said the company needed to test the cars on public roads. After a week-long standoff, the DMV revoked the registrations of Uber’s self-driving cars, and Uber shipped the cars off to Arizona to resume testing.

Uber’s brazen disregard of state regulators prompted condemnation from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office. Now, Ting wants to make sure the Uber scenario isn’t repeated.

Ting’s bill would require the DMV to revoke the vehicle registration of any self-driving car operating in violation of state rules, and would authorize law enforcement to impound the car. Ting also hopes to develop standards for the DMV to make public information about self-driving cars operating on local roads.

San Francisco Supervisor and Transportation Authority Chair Aaron Peskin is among the bill’s supporters.

“These companies have demonstrated remarkable negligence in their attempts to prioritize profit over public safety, and it’s refreshing to see a state representative step up to protect our residents,” he wrote in a news release. “San Franciscans are not guinea pigs and our public streets aren’t experimental test labs.”

Photo: An Uber self-driving car waits to be demonstrated in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

 

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