Monday, July 8, 2024







        The drive to deprive cities and counties of their authority over local land use is well known; it’s one major goal of the more than 100 housing-related laws state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom have passed over the last five years.


        Now those same local governments appear about to lose control over another major traditional responsibility: assuring as much safety as possible on streets and boulevards.


        That’s the upshot of withdrawal last month of a state Senate bill that aimed to give locals the power to regulate operation of autonomous vehicles within their areas.


        When it became clear this plan had no chance of intact passage this year because of powerful lobbying by the likes of Google and General Motors, it was withdrawn from consideration by the state Assembly’s Transportation Committee.


        That came when the bill was about to be stripped of its basic content, which was assurance of local control. It may reappear next year.


        At issue is whether Waymo, owned by Google’s dummy parent company Alphabet Inc., or Cruise, owned by General Motors, can expand their current operations beyond San Francisco, where Waymo has operated what is essentially a taxi service since late 2022. The company has a similar operation in Phoenix.


        But the state Public Utilities Commission – long known for doing what it can to please the electric and natural gas utilities it also regulates – has now authorized Google to expand use of driverless cars to both San Mateo County and Los Angeles.


        Neither locale has approved such service.


        It’s no wonder Waymo, the only driverless outfit now picking up passengers in California, is controversial.


        At this moment, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is examining nearly two dozen crashes and traffic violations involving Waymo vehicles in Arizona and California. These involve cars with rooftops carrying apparatus holding lenses that point in all directions, giving these cars far more visual information than any human driver normally sees.


        But automakers in 2022 reported more than 400 crashes of vehicles with fully or partially automated driverless or driver-assist systems. Tesla’s Autopilot beta accounted for 273 of those accidents.


        There have also been several incidents in San Francisco, where Waymo and Cruise have run tests on driverless cars for several years, seeking to prove their operations safe in one of America’s most crowded urban traffic environments.


        In one incident that a passenger said left him feeling helpless, a person who appeared to be homeless tried to cover the sensors on a Waymo cab as it began to move when a traffic signal turned green last winter. “It was nighttime, pouring rain,” the passenger told a reporter. “We felt trapped, didn’t know what to do.”


        In another San Francisco incident, a Waymo driverless car reportedly collided with a bicyclist, not detecting the human rider until it was too late to stop. The cyclist was riding close to the tail end of a large truck and suffered no injury.


        Altogether, automated Waymo cars have reportedly been involved in 150 crashes since July 2021, while rival Cruise has had 78.


        Yet, Google maintains that Waymo, which it has operated since 2016, “continues to make roads safer.”

    The firm had recorded 14.8 million rider-only miles as of April 1, claiming to be 3.5 times better at avoiding injury accidents and twice as good as normally driven cars at avoiding crashes reported to police in San Francisco and Phoenix.


        Meanwhile, it’s not only Waymo and Cruise operating in California. The state's Department of Motor Vehicles allows more than a dozen companies to test similar technologies here.


        The abandoned state Senate bill would have let local governments limit the number of robot cars on their streets and times of day they operate, as well as time periods when they could charge for driverless rides.


        Even though it is now authorized to operate in San Mateo County and Los Angeles, Waymo has not yet said when it will start full operations in either place.


        Plus, one lawsuit challenging their authorization has yet to be decided by the state Court of Appeal. This battle is far from over.




    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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