11 Oct 18

Autonomous Vehicles in The Bay

Cruise has cars equipped with lots of cameras, but without a real driver – except for the safety driver – driving through the streets of San Francisco. Which is not that easy, since the legal framework for them is balanced between state-wide and local regulations.

At the end of September California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to allow the police to impound autonomous vehicles that drive on California's public streets without a valid permit. The bill will apply to public roads in California as self-driving cars are regulated on the state level in the United States. 

AVs in California

As a result, California set stricter guidelines than Florida, for example. 

Until now, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has already issued 50 permits to test AVs with safety drivers, to companies including Uber, BMW, Ford, Subaru, Lyft, Apple Inc., Toyota Research Institute, and Waymo. Most of them operate in the Bay Area.

Since 2 April, AVs are even allowed to drive without safety drivers on public roads, thanks to the regulatory framework of the DMV. Nevertheless, they have to provide a communication link with the testing vehicle and remote operators. Furthermore, the companies have to certify the vehicle as capable of autonomous operation and submit a law enforcement interaction plan, including action plans in case of an emergency or hazardous situation to the California Highway Patrol, in order to be available for first responders. 

Since 2 April, companies can apply for permits for real driverless vehicles, and both the DMV and the industry expected many applications. 

Public Safety

The timing of the legislation was interesting for San Francisco, since around that time many AVs where under attack by citizens. Within the legal framework of the state, local governors have to balance between the interests of tech companies to bring the AVs on their streets, and the concerns of citizens considering public safety. But, due to these frameworks, the local mayors often lack the jurisdictional control over the issue. 

On the other hand, they can influence the development of AVs via local measures. Washington DC, for instance, replaced parking spaces by designed areas for ride-hailing pick-up and drop-off, increasing road safety. Chicago on the other hand, issued a $0.15 fee on each ride-hail ride, which goes to public transport. 

Eventually, the Californian law has created possibilities for real driverless cars, but since the application opened on 2 April 2018, there are no official confirmations of applications yet.

Authored by: Fien Van den steen