California Lawmaker Pulls Bill on Autonomous Vehicles

Legislation Would Have Allowed Cities to Regulate Self-Driving Cars
Waymo vehicle
A Waymo robotaxi on the streets of Santa Monica during testing phase in 2023. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Tribune Content Agency)

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The tech sector has declared victory after California state Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) withdrew SB 915, which would change how self-driving cars are regulated, from consideration this week.

SB 915 would have given local municipalities the ability to regulate, though not ban, autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving cars, within their jurisdictions.

Currently, the vehicles are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

“It’s good to see California lawmakers going back to the drawing board on autonomous vehicle policy,” said Ruth Whittaker of the Chamber of Progress, which advocates on behalf of the tech industry.

“Autonomous vehicles have the power to save thousands of lives in California by eliminating drunk, distracted and unsafe human driving. Over the past month, we’ve heard leaders from across the state raise concerns that this bill could derail progress on California’s roads,” she said.

Critics of the bill had argued that it would create a patchwork of regulations that would make it very difficult for AV companies to operate in the state.

Jeff Farrah of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, a trade group that opposed the bill, said in a statement, “Cities are critical partners for AV companies, and the AV industry remains committed to fostering close and collaborative relationships with city officials and local law enforcement to ensure the technology’s benefits become a reality.”

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Cortese told The Bee that he pulled the bill because the Assembly Transportation Committee was looking to gut it with what he called hostile amendments.

“So basically, we had nothing left to move forward,” he said.

Cortese said he’s not done yet. He plans to introduce new legislation next year on this topic. He said that the need for that legislation will only become more apparent as AVs see wider use and lead to greater “local community damages.”

“The increased propensity for tragedy and more human carnage like they had in San Francisco is predictive,” he said, referring to a number of accidents in the Bay Area that have resulted in human injury. “The problems that are out there are just going to persist.”

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