According to NBC, law enforcement in California can’t ticket driverless cars for traffic violations, thanks to a legal loophole requiring an actual driver in the car. NBC Bay Area reports: An internal memo from San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit, instructs officers that “no citation for a moving violation can be issued if the [autonomous vehicle] is being operated in a driverless mode.” Scott added, “Technology evolves rapidly and, at times, faster than legislation or regulations can adapt to the changes.”
While autonomous vehicles in California have received parking citations, the state’s transportation laws appear to leave driverless vehicles immune from receiving any type of traffic ticket stemming from moving violations. “I think it sends a message that it’s not a level playing field, that fairness is not the priority,” said Michael Stephenson, the founder and senior attorney of Bay Area Bicycle Law, a law firm that specializes in representing cyclists in accident cases.
Stephenson said that driverless vehicles don’t exactly fit into the state’s current legal framework and that California needs new laws to appropriately govern the evolving technology. “We’re perhaps trying to shove a square peg into a round hole,” he said. “We are very much in the Wild West when it comes to driverless cars.”
The report notes that other states have rewritten traffic laws to allow ticketing of driverless cars. “Texas, which rivals California as another popular testing ground for autonomous vehicles, changed its transportation laws in 2017 to adapt to the emerging technology,” reports NBC. “According to the Texas Transportation Code, the owner of a driverless car is ‘considered the operator’ and can be cited for breaking traffic laws ‘regardless of whether the person is physically present in the vehicle.'”
“Arizona, another busy site for autonomous vehicles, took similar steps,” adds NBC. “In revising its traffic laws, Arizona declared the owner of an autonomous vehicle ‘may be issued a traffic citation or other applicable penalty if the vehicle fails to comply with traffic or motor vehicle laws.'”
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