Skip to main content

California lawmakers bring hammer down on self-driving car companies

woman walks in front of vehicle
A new bill would would require additional data reporting from self-driving car companies to the and impose stiff financial penalties for those who fail to do so.  | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

After flying under lawmakers' radar for years, autonomous vehicle companies are suddenly crashing into political reality. With the backing of labor allies, California politicians are racing to rein in the fleets of self-driving cars multiplying across the state’s roads.

Assemblymember Matt Haney, who represents San Francisco, has introduced a bill that would require additional data reporting from autonomous vehicle companies to the Department of Motor Vehicles and impose strict financial penalties for those companies that fail to do so. 

Haney’s proposal, known as the AV Safety and Transparency Bill, is meant to bring state data reporting requirements in line with what self-driving car companies have to disclose to the federal government. 

It would require companies like Waymo, Zoox and Cruise to provide detailed reports on collisions, traffic violations, passenger and road user interactions, vehicle performance data and vehicle disengagements, commonly known as “bricking.” 

These reports would be required regardless of whether vehicles were operating with a human test driver behind the wheel or were autonomously ferrying ride-hail passengers and would be published on the DMV website within 30 days of their receipt. 

“I’m supportive of the technology and want it done right,” Haney said in a statement. “But as they grow from testing to full deployment, there’s a lot that’s not being shared and that hurts trust, it hurts transparency, and it hurts safety.”

Failure to meet the requirements would result in a steep fine of around $26,000 per day and the bill includes potential multipliers that would raise the total penalty to a manufacturer to $131.5 million. 

The bill, AB 3061, adds to a growing raft of autonomous vehicle legislation being introduced by state lawmakers, many of whom are backed by powerful labor unions, which are generally opposed to self-driving vehicles because of the potential for mass disruption of the labor market for its members. 

“AB 3061 isn’t just about holding AV companies to account, it’s about holding our regulators to account, cutting out the politics and putting public safety first,” Peter Finn, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, said in a statement. “We can’t keep letting bureaucrats cater to their friends in Big Tech and then look the other way when robotaxis hit people or cause mayhem on our streets.”

Earlier this year, state Sen. David Cortese introduced SB 916, which would give local governments the ability to establish vehicle caps and service hours and require a system for emergency responders to override vehicle controls.

The Teamsters-backed bill would allow local authorities to block robotaxi services from operating unless authorized by individual cities and counties. 

It responds to concerns from local officials, particularly in San Francisco, that they were being excluded from the regulatory process while having to contend with the on-the-ground ramifications of the new technology.  

“It enables cities and counties to do the same things they do with cab service and ride-share around airports,” Cortese told The Standard in January. “This gets us past square one and into a regulatory environment where local jurisdictions have a say.”

In January, San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting introduced AB 1777, which is meant to close a loophole within the current vehicle code that exempts a driverless car from being given a moving violation citation because there is no individual driver to cite. 

The law would require that fines and points be assessed to the individual car violating the law, mirroring the treatment of human drivers, with payment from the autonomous vehicle permit holder. 

Also in partnership with the Teamsters, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry has reintroduced a bill that would require a trained human operator to be behind the wheel of self-driving trucks weighing more than 10,000 lbs.

“This bill is still necessary,” Aguiar-Curry said at a rally announcing AB 2286. “It’s a commonsense measure that keeps humans on board a truck until we have a plan for our workers and we are sure the tech bros aren’t jamming unsafe technology down our throats.” 

The proposal was initially brought forward by the Yolo County lawmaker as AB 316 last year and passed both houses of the legislature with strong bipartisan support before it was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

In his veto memo, Newsom wrote that “existing law provides sufficient authority to create the appropriate regulatory framework.”

Based on the sheer volume of bills being put forward, it appears that many state lawmakers disagree with the governor’s assessment.