Bill by Senator Cortese Empowers Local Communities to Steer Driverless Car Safety

Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) introduced a bill today empowering local governments to protect the public through local governance of autonomous vehicles. SB 915 arrives amid growing concerns about autonomous vehicles and public safety, as hundreds of driverless cars navigate the busy streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles amid documented reports of serious accidents.

“City councils and county boards of supervisors adopt ordinances on any given week, nimbly and with local accountability. SB 915 returns control to the local communities who know their streets best,” said Senator Cortese (D-San Jose). “The emergence of autonomous vehicles is an exciting technological development with massive potential upsides for safety and convenience. We must ensure this innovative technology rolls out safely. SB 915 strikes the right balance between responsible technology deployment and public safety. Under SB 915, the rules of the road will continue to be established and enforced by the people who live there.” 

Local communities currently have no influence over the autonomous vehicles operating across their streets and roads. The State of California has opened testing of these vehicles in cities without regard to local jurisdictions or their public safety concerns. Moreover, local law enforcement agencies have lacked the authority to ticket autonomous vehicles for moving violations. SB 915, the Autonomous Vehicle Service Deployment and Data Transparency Act, closes this gap, granting local authorities the same oversight between driverless and traditional vehicles without removing state authority. SB 915 will:

  • Empower Local Communities: Instead of the State of California determining how self-driving vehicles operate in a given area, local governments will be empowered to grant such permits, as well as enforce traffic laws on autonomous vehicle companies by enacting new local ordinances, as needed, in real-time.


  • Maintain Safety for Pedestrians, Passengers, and Other Vehicles: Local communities will ensure that self-driving car services are safe and user-friendly for everyone, including passengers with disabilities. Tech companies will need to demonstrate that each of their autonomous vehicles are regularly inspected to ensure safety. Pedestrian-populated areas like schools and airports can be made safe by local ordinance.


  • Establish a Community-Centered Approach: SB 915 allows each local government to set up its own rules for self-driving vehicles based on the community’s unique needs. Local governments will be able to govern fares on robotaxis and the number of autonomous vehicles on the road. This will manage traffic and reduce the potential for injuries.

“Our streets should not be private laboratories for untested technology,” said Peter Finn, Teamsters Western Region International Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 856 in San Bruno. “SB 915 is the common-sense measure to ensure autonomous vehicles don't operate in a regulatory vacuum, putting lives at risk. Local communities deserve a say in how these vehicles operate on their streets.”

“Autonomous vehicles currently fall short in their capability to adequately detect and interact with first responders and their emergency scenes. Such a shortfall would be deemed unacceptable for human drivers,” said Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona), a co-author of SB 915. “SB 915 would not only allow cities to ensure there are safe policies for deployment on their streets but also ensure autonomous vehicles can work with a city’s first responders.”

Unlike the process for regulating taxicabs, local governments lack the ability to establish rules and regulations around the deployment of autonomous vehicle services. SB 915 is modeled after the existing statute that authorizes local governments to pass ordinances regulating taxicabs. The bill is co-sponsored by the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the League of California Cities.

In October, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) immediately suspended the company Cruise's autonomous vehicle deployment and testing permits amid safety concerns. The suspension followed a severe accident involving a pedestrian. Following the suspension, Senator Cortese initiated a public inquiry into California's permitting process for driverless vehicles. Senator Cortese’s SB 915 is a vital step toward building greater public trust between local communities and the companies that operate driverless cars, without hindering innovation and deployment.

Senator Dave Cortese represents Senate District 15, which encompasses San Jose and much of Santa Clara County in the heart of Silicon Valley. Visit Senator Cortese’s website: