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Governor Brown authorizes cops to impound robot cars

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“Please step out of the vehicle”

A self-driving WayMo car on a street in Mountain View. Photo by Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 87, a bill that will allow cops to impound robot cars on California public streets.

The bill, written by San Francisco-based Assemblymember Phil Ting, allows law enforcement to do the following:

Remove a vehicle that uses autonomous technology without a valid permit that is required to operate the vehicle on public roads.

The bill would authorize the release of the vehicle after the registered owner of, or person in control of, the autonomous vehicle furnishes the storing law enforcement agency with proof of current registration and a valid driver’s license, and either a valid permit that is required to operate the autonomous vehicle using autonomous technology on public roads or a declaration or sworn statement to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Ting introduced AB 87 in January of 2017, citing “Uber’s illegal debut of autonomous or self-driving vehicles” in December 2016 and accusing the company of “recklessly putting profit before public safety.”

In hindsight Uber’s self-driving car initiative wasn’t a big money maker; the SF-based ride hailing company has since gotten out of the robot car business. But the bill continued on through the state legislature even after the withdrawal, passing 80-0 in a final State Assembly vote in August.

After the signing, Ting’s office noted in a statement, “The legislation comes as Sacramento is poised to become the first California city where AVs with no occupants will be tested on public streets. “

In August, the city of Sacramento forged a deal with driverless car company Phantom Auto that will allow autonomous vehicles without safety drivers on the streets.

[Correction: A DMV spokesperson says that “Phantom Auto’s vehicles are not considered autonomous under California law because they have a remote human driver.”

Phantom Auto vehicles may be operated from up to 100 miles away, so when the car is in autonomous mode it will indeed be driving itself with no human physically present, something no vehicle has done on a California street before. However, a backup driver will still be on call to take over if need be, albeit remotely in this case.]

The California Department of Motor Vehicles [DMV] changed statewide rules to allow for such testing earlier this year, but thus far no company has actually put a truly driverless car out into a city.

Also in August, Apple reported its first driverless car collision after one of its vehicles was rear-ended near Apple Park. But Apple says the vehicle was in fact being operated by a human driver at the time of the collision.