San Franciscans Push Bill to Curb Illegal Self-driving Cars

For immediate release:

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Inspired by Uber’s illegal debut of autonomous or self-driving vehicles last month, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D–San Francisco) introduced legislation to increase penalties on such companies while also giving communities the means to remove illegal vehicles from the road.

“I applaud our innovation economy and all the companies developing autonomous vehicle technology, but no community should face what we did in San Francisco. The pursuit of innovation does not include a license to put innocent lives at risk,” said Ting. “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.”

Assembly Bill (AB) 87 requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to revoke the vehicle registration of any autonomous vehicle operating in violation of their Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program and authorizes law enforcement to impound such vehicles.  The bill gives DMV the discretion to fine companies illegally operating autonomous vehicles up to $25,000 per vehicle per day of violation and prohibits those companies from applying to receive a permit from DMV to legally test self-driving technology on California road for two years.

As the bill moves forward, Ting wants to develop standards for the DMV to disclose basic information about autonomous vehicles operating on local roads to impacted communities.

“Innovation is critical to the future of San Francisco and so is the public safety of its residents," said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. "These two priorities go hand in hand and I look forward to collaborating with all parties to ensure the safety of San Franciscans as we continue to work with companies who bring innovative, new ideas to our city."

"I worked with Assemblyman Ting to ensure local control over dangerous tour buses, and I'm delighted to support his efforts now to reign in dangerous self-driving Ubers," said San Francisco County Supervisor and Transportation Authority Chair Aaron Peskin. "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. San Franciscans are not guinea pigs and our public streets aren't experimental test labs."

Under existing law in California, companies must first receive a permit from the DMV in order to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. 20 companies have received such a permit with a combined number of about 130 total test vehicles. In order to get the permit, companies must demonstrate that the cars have a current registration, proof of insurance, certify that the vehicle will only be used for testing purposes, provide a description of the autonomous technology, among other documentation. The permit costs $150 and is designed to balance the need for testing autonomous vehicle technology in real world conditions with public safety. Unfortunately, a violation of this legal requirement is merely an infraction.

Last December, Uber debuted its autonomous vehicle pilot program in San Francisco without obtaining a permit. The company also started picking up passengers, which current law does not allow. In response, the DMV revoked the registrations of Uber’s 16 autonomous vehicles in order to pull the cars off the public streets. The DMV offered to expedite review and approval of a permit but Uber chose to move their pilot to Arizona.

A dashboard-camera from a Luxor Cab obtained footage of an Uber autonomous vehicle running a red light near the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Additionally, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition found that Uber’s autonomous cars were not merging into the bicycle lane to make right turns, putting cyclists in danger of being hit.

Here is what supporters have to say about AB 87.

“Autonomous vehicle technology has a lot to offer in terms of public safety, but there are still far too many unknowns, especially for people walking and biking,” said Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of WalkSF. “These unknowns must be sorted out and regulated so the safety of everyone on our roads is prioritized. We commend Assemblymember Ting for taking this important step by introducing this legislation.”

“We applaud Assemblymember Ting's leadership in ensuring the safety of all people traveling on our streets, especially people walking and bicycling, is the top priority in advancing autonomous vehicle innovation,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, Policy Director at the California Bicycle Coalition. “Autonomous vehicle technology may revolutionize road safety by eliminating the potential for driver error, minimizing a lot of danger for people on foot or on bike, if it is thoroughly tested and monitored first. This bill will hold companies like Uber accountable to protecting public safety as they drive innovation.”

"Autonomous vehicles hold great promise for reducing collisions and improving safety for everyone on our streets," said Brian Wiedenmeier, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "It's important that autonomous vehicle technology is developed with respect for both the law and public safety. We applaud Assemblymember Ting for leading the way on ensuring that anyone flouting regulations pays the price for disregarding public safety."

CONTACT: Anthony Matthews, tel. (916) 319-2019, anthony.matthews@asm.ca.gov