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San Francisco cyclists say no to California self-driving cars

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Bike advocacy group wants DMV to swerve on autonomous vehicles

A self-driving Uber car pulling out of the garage. Photo by Dllu/Wikicommons

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is petitioning the California Department of Motor Vehicles not to permit driverless cars without human safety drivers on California streets. But the group’s ire may be redundant, as the DMV says that no companies have yet bothered to apply for permits for driver-free autonomous vehicles.

The SF-based bike lobbying group posted a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto on Monday along with a petition directed at Shiomoto for supporters to sign, both alleging that self-driving car technology isn’t safe enough for California streets:

There is no benefit to the public in rushing this process, especially in light of events that call into question the safety of this technology as developed and deployed by Uber in Arizona as well as enforcement of AV test driver qualifications and standards of behavior.

The CA DMV has jurisdiction over the entire state, but I want to stress that San Francisco is likely to see more permits issued for testing than any other county. Given the density of likely AV testing in our city, people who walk and bike in San Francisco would be put in the greatest danger if unsafe technology is rushed to fully autonomous testing without understanding any potentially fatal flaws.

Although autonomous vehicles are now a fairly common sight on Bay Area roadways, the DMV only recently approved truly driverless cars without human-safety drivers behind the wheel.

The missive from Brian Wiedenmeier, director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, comes in response to the death of 49-year-old Tempe, Arizona resident Elaine Herzberg, who died after an autonomous Uber vehicle hit her crossing the street. It’s the first death attributed to robot car tech. Following the fatal crash, the state of Arizona suspended Uber’s right to test on public roads.

Note that the car that killed Herzberg had a human safety driver at the wheel. Even so, SF Bike claims the accident illustrates that self-driving cars are not ready for prime time.


However, it turns out it might not matte at all. The San Francisco Examiner reported this week that no car companies have bothered to apply for permits for driver-free vehicles.

Under new DMV guidelines approved in February, companies could begin testing cars without drivers as early as Monday, April 2. A DMV spokesperson told the Examiner that, of the 50 companies deploying automated vehicle technology in the state, a grand total of zero have yet applied.

There’s nothing stopping any of the companies from doing so now,—and it seems difficult to believe that any of them will hold out forever—but for the time being, nothing is set to change on San Francisco roadways.