Bill Would Fine Illegal Autonomous Vehicles $25K Per Day

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Permits that only cost $150 are clearly worth taking the time to secure if this ends up being the alternative

Inspired by Uber's illegal autonomous taxi launch in California, a San Francisco assemblyman is calling on the state to tighten self-driving rules.

Democrat Phil Ting on Thursday introduced legislation that would increase penalties and restrict permits for those companies in violation of the law.

"I applaud our innovation economy and all the companies developing autonomous vehicle technology, but no community should face what we did in San Francisco," Ting said in a statement. "The pursuit of innovation does not include a license to put innocent lives at risk."

Following a successful rollout of self-piloted cars in Pittsburgh, Uber returned to its hometown of San Francisco. But the ride-hailing firm stubbornly refused to apply for California DMV authorization.

The state began distributing $150 permits for the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program in 2014; as of Dec. 8, 2016, almost two dozen companies—including Google, Ford, and Tesla—received permission to test self-driving cars in California.

Since human drivers are present in Uber's autonomous vehicles at all times, they don't require a special permit, VP of self-driving tech Anthony Levandowski said last month. The DMV disagreed, eventually revoking Uber's registrations and ending the experiment.

"Nearly every company knows and acts like it is part of a community. They follow the law," Ting said. "We need stronger enforcement tools to protect ourselves from those recklessly putting profit before public safety."

Assembly Bill 87, if passed, would require California's DMV to revoke the registration of defiant self-driving cars, and authorize law enforcement to impound the vehicles.

It also gives the state power to dole out fines up to $25,000 per vehicle, per day of violation, and prohibits infringing companies from applying for a permit to legally test autonomous cars on California roads for up to two years.

Uber's San Francisco self-driving experiment, launched in mid-December, attracted criticism from regulators immediately after its debut—when one of the Volvo SUVs was caught running a red light. The fleet of XC90s has since been relocated to Arizona.

"These companies have demonstrated remarkable negligence in their attempts to prioritize profit over public safety, and it's refreshing to see a state representative step up to protect our residents," San Francisco County Supervisor and Transportation Authority chairman Aaron Peskin said. "San Franciscans are not guinea pigs and our public streets aren't experimental test labs."

Consumer Watchdog also has its eye on Uber: The advocacy group this week called on Uber to release information about testing its autonomous vehicles in Arizona, and to answer 10 questions about its vision for self-driving cars.

"Consumer Watchdog believes you opted to pick up your toys and move because you wanted to keep important information about your robot car testing secret," Privacy Project Director John Simpson wrote in a letter to Uber chief Travis Kalanick.

"It's in Uber's self-interest to be candid about what you are doing so that you build trust in your activities," Simpson continued. "Without trust, people will not adopt and use robot car technology."

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