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California considers granting local veto for autonomous vehicle efforts

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(The Center Square) – California lawmakers introduced a proposal that would require autonomous vehicle operators to secure authorization from local elected officials through new ordinances before operations can commence, even if the operator has already been authorized by the California Department of Motor Vehicles or the California Public Utilities Commission.

These ordinances could include rules requiring permitting programs, caps on the number of autonomous vehicles, limits on service hours, emergency override systems, and fees to cover the cost of enforcing regulations.

“City councils and county boards of supervisors adopt ordinances on any given week, nimbly and with local accountability,” said State Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, in a statement. “SB 915 returns control to the local communities who know their streets best.”

The bill is supported by the California Teamsters union and Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, the leading candidate in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

“AVs have wreaked havoc on our streets for too long and with too little oversight,” said Chris Griswold, President of Teamsters Joint Council 42, in a statement. “It’s past time that local governments have a say in how this untested technology is deployed in their communities.”

In his letter, Schiff detailed an incident in which autonomous vehicles’ failure to make way for an ambulance at least partially led to the death of a car accident victim who was delayed in getting to the hospital, and more than 70 reports from the San Francisco Fire Department of autonomous vehicles failing to get out of the way for emergency vehicles.

The measure appears to have bipartisan support, with Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, a Republican, endorsing the measure.

Last year, citing “performance of the vehicles,” CADMV suspended the driverless testing permits of GM-backed Cruise, one of the two autonomous taxi operators the state approved for operations in California. The other, Google-backed Waymo, remains in operation. On Saturday, a crowd lit a Waymo car on fire after breaking its windows and vandalizing the vehicle.

“We are a city that is home to exciting, emerging technologies, like autonomous vehicles, that are changing the world,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a statement. “We are not defined by a small, isolated incident by a reckless few – we are defined by the rich, vibrant communities, like the ones who came together Saturday in Chinatown to celebrate the best of who we are.”