Mayor calls on self-driving car companies to agree to voluntary SF safety tests

Mayor Mark Farrell is calling on the 50 companies experimenting with self-driving cars in California to prove their technology is safe in San Francisco.

The mayor on Wednesday sent a letter urging those companies to volunteer for local safety assessments with the San Francisco Police Department and other city agencies, in an effort to ensure the safety of San Franciscans.

Importantly, The City of San Francisco has no regulatory control over self-driving vehicles, which are governed by the CA Department of Motor Vehicles and California Public Utilities Commission.

“Bottom line is, we have zero control over the regulations,” Farrell told the San Francisco Examiner Wednesday. “My first job as mayor of San Francisco is to look out for the safety of our residents. Full stop.”

Those so-called robot cars are expected to roll down The City’s streets April 2 without a driver behind the wheel, following state approval earlier this month of California DMV safety regulations. The regulations require those vehicles to be monitored remotely.

Farrell is concerned safety personnel in The City may not know how to best respond to incidents like traffic collisions involving self-driving vehicles without the aid of autonomous vehicle companies.

“If an accident happens, if a car stalls on the road, we as a city need to know how” to deal with that, Farrell said.

Farrell’s letter expresses support for automated vehicles, but requests a local safety assessment process that would include table-top training exercises given by a representative from the automated vehicle company, a “tour” of the self-driving vehicles to understand how they work, and demonstrations showing how the vehicles operates in various environments — including parts of The City rife with congestion.

CA DMV regulations do require self-driving vehicle manufacturers provide a copy of a “law enforcement interaction plan” to first responders, which includes written material instructing agencies how to interact with the vehicle “in emergency and traffic enforcement situations.”

Uber confirmed they are in talks with The Mayor’s Office but would not yet comment on whether they would commit to Farrell’s request. Representatives for Lyft and Waymo, the Google-led self-driving car initiative, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

John Simpson, an advocate with the Southern California-based group Consumer Watchdog, has long voiced the need for tighter self-driving vehicle safety regulations.

“I think the mayor is doing exactly what he should be doing,” Simpson said.

Simpson said local municipalities — not the state — have more detailed ideas of which streets would be most dangerous for driverless cars to operate on, and where they may more safely deploy.

“They’re using our public roads as their private laboratories,” he said. “ You might get a company proposing something absolutely crazy, running cars by a school right when parents will be dropping their kids off.”

Farrell agreed with that view. But, he said, “Until that happens I’m going to take every step possible to get these organizations to work voluntarily with San Francisco.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez covers transportation for the San Francisco Examiner. He also writes the weekly political On Guard column. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter: @FitzTheReporter.

Published by
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Recent Posts

Putin easily wins re-election as Russian president

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has cemented his position in power at the Kremlin by winning what early results…

2 hours ago

Spring training digest: MadBum hits his stride, A’s shuffle pitching staff

Madison Bumgarner was in midseason form — both on the mound and at the plate  — during the San Francisco…

2 hours ago

Rand Paul threatens filibuster on State Department, CIA nominees

WASHINGTON — Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that he would “do everything to stop” President Donald Trump’s nominations of Mike…

3 hours ago

California’s anti-abortion pregnancy centers want the Supreme Court to overturn state notice law

SAN FRANCISCO — At a faith-based pregnancy center here, rooms are crammed with baby supplies, new and used, for expectant…

4 hours ago

Trump renews attack on ousted FBI official, questions special counsel’s fairness

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump Sunday continued his attack on fired FBI official Andrew McCabe, who is likely to be…

6 hours ago

Peskin calls for SF fire chief to resign over North Beach fire response

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said fire crews did not shoot water onto a massive fire in North Beach for more than…

7 hours ago