California lawmakers push for more autonomous vehicle oversight

State lawmakers held a hearing on Monday on SB 915, a bill aimed at giving local governments greater control over the operation of driverless vehicles in California cities.

Earlier this year, the Public Utilities Commission granted Waymo permission to expand its operations into San Mateo County.

State Sen. Dave Cortese proposed the bill. He noted that SB 915 has already advanced through two committees. However, residents expressed mixed sentiments. They said Waymo has already started testing its vehicles on city streets.

"In Foster City, I see them all the time when I’m coming home from work. They practice on one of the roads I take home," said Foster City resident Elizabeth Donovan.


Waymo expansion into San Mateo, Los Angeles counties gets approved

Waymo has won approval to expand its driverless taxi service into San Mateo and Los Angeles counties.

Pushback from the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors failed to stop Waymo's expansion. The company's driverless vehicles are preparing to operate in the coming months.

Cortese, representing District 15, introduced SB 915 in January, advocating for increased oversight by local governments over driverless vehicles.

"It does create an opportunity for cities like San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco to come in and say 'Here’s how you get into our airport. Here’s how you pick up passengers. Here’s how you don’t pick up passengers. Here’s how you behave around schools,'" Cortese explained.

Waymo intends to extend its operations from the Peninsula to Sunnyvale.

Following several incidents in San Francisco prompting safety concerns, some residents in San Mateo County are skeptical about how the vehicles will operate on their streets.

"I just don’t know if I trust the self-driving technology yet. There are a lot of schools around here. I’m sure there’s something there, but in practice, I don’t know. It’s a little scary," said Donovan.

"It should be on the company for their autonomous vehicle violating some sort of traffic law, but instead they'll say, ‘It’s fine, we don’t get in trouble. We don’t get a ticket because no one’s driving,'" said Garrett, of Redwood City.

Regardless of SB 915's fate, driverless vehicles are coming to the South Bay. However, one resident said she likes the concept but wants additional safety assurances.

"When I think about innovation and the future, I can see driverless cars fitting that future. I would especially like to see some kind of override option," said Eden Abay, of Redwood City.

Cortese says the Appropriations Committee will vote on May 16. If the bill advances, he hopes it will be on the governor's desk this fall.