Should local governments get to regulate self-driving vehicles? California bill gets hearing

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Should local governments be allowed to pass their own regulations around autonomous vehicles (also known as robotaxis, self-driving vehicles or AVs)?

A bill that would do just that moved one step closer to becoming law on Wednesday, when the Senate Local Government Committee appeared to give its approval to SB 915, by Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose.

In remarks supporting his bill, Cortese said that local governments are more “nimble” that the State Legislature, and are able to act quickly to concerns within their jurisdiction in a fraction of the time that state lawmakers can.

“SB 915 returns control to the local communities who know their streets best. The emergence of autonomous vehicles is an exciting technological development with massive potential upsides for safety and convenience. We must ensure this innovative technology rolls out safely,” Cortese said in comments included in a committee analysis of the bill.

The bill has been met with substantial pushback — from stakeholder companies like Tesla and Waymo, from business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce and even from a handful of local elected officials, including El Segundo Mayor Drew Boyles.

A coalition of groups penned a letter to committee chair Sen. María Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, arguing that allowing local governments to regulate AVs would not increase safety on California roads.

They said the plan would confound efforts by state regulators (AVs are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Motor Vehicles) and prevent unified AV operations around the state by creating “a small patchwork of local ordinances that blocks mobility options for all Californians.”

The bill is supported by organized labor groups, including the California Labor Federation and California Teamsters, as well as a variety of municipalities (including the City of Oakland) and municipal groups (including the League of California Cities).

The final vote for the bill could not be ascertained by deadline, but Sens. Durazo and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, voted in favor of it, while Sen. Steven Glazer, D-Orinda, voted against it.


“How do I best say this? We’re in conversations with the company you referenced. Let’s leave it at that.”

- California Gov. Gavin Newsom, responding to a question about Google pulling California news links from its search platform, during a press conference Tuesday.

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