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California Legislature

In response to Uber, lawmaker introduces bill to penalize companies that test self-driving cars without permits

An Uber self-driving car heads out for a test drive Dec. 13 in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
An Uber self-driving car heads out for a test drive Dec. 13 in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Three weeks after ride-hailing company Uber illegally debuted self-driving cars on San Francisco’s streets, a state lawmaker has introduced legislation to boost penalties on companies that defy the law.

The bill from Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) would fine any company that illegally operates such cars up to $25,000 per vehicle per day and prohibit the company from applying for a Department of Motor Vehicles permit to test the technology for two years.

“I applaud our innovation economy and all the companies developing autonomous vehicle technology, but no community should face what we did in San Francisco,” Ting said in a release. “The pursuit of innovation does not include a license to put innocent lives at risk.”

In mid-December, Uber unveiled 16 self-driving cars in San Francisco without getting a required permit from the DMV. The company argued that the rules didn’t apply to its fleet because the cars had a human behind the wheel who could take control. While the cars were on the road, local officials and residents registered numerous safety complaints, and a video of a self-driving Uber Volvo running a red light in San Francisco went viral. After a nine-day standoff with regulators, the DMV revoked the fleet’s registration and the company moved its testing to Arizona.

Ting had taken a test drive in one of the self-driving cars a few weeks before Uber put them on the streets. A spokesman for Ting said the assemblyman was supportive of the technology and was unaware that the company hadn’t received a permit to operate them.

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