11 jan 24
Fil d'Actus

Why driverless cars can’t get fined in California

Why driverless cars can’t get fined in California

Driverless cars have been in operation in California for some time, but due to a legal loophole, they can’t get fined. 

In an internal memo, the San Francisco Police Department advises its officers that “no citation for a moving violation can be issued if (the autonomous vehicle, or AV) is operated in driverless mode”. The memo goes on to clarify that “technology evolves rapidly and, at times, faster than legislation or regulations can adapt to the changes.”

Indeed, California State Law only allows traffic fines to be issued if there is a person behind the wheel. This has been a problem notably in San Francisco (pictured: Lombard Street), where both Waymo and (until recently) Cruise operate self-driving taxis, which have been accused of causing congestion, running red lights, and blocking access for emergency services. 

Curiously, the loophole only applies to AVs when they’re moving; when they’re wrongly parked, they can and do get parking tickets in California. 

Also, the loophole appears to be particular to California. In both Texas, where Austin and Houston are proving grounds for AVs, and in Arizona, where Phoenix is the test area, the owner of the AV is considered the operator, and can be fined for any traffic violation. 

Both California’s loophole and that state’s regulatory discrepancy with other states highlight the need for updated and streamlined rules for AVs – which will be a challenge in the U.S., where each state can work out its own set of rules. The same applies to the EU, with its 27 member states. 

China, in contrast, decided late last year to strip local authorities from the power to regulate AVs, and is moving to a single regulatory framework for AVs that will cover the entirety of its territory. 

Image: Shutterstock 1700578906

Authored by: Frank Jacobs