San Francisco leaders meet with self-driving car execs over safety

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Though it was planned several weeks ago, a summit on self-driving cars in San Francisco couldn't be more timely, after the fatal crash of an Uber vehicle that was driving itself in Arizona.

Mayor Mark Farrell had asked executives from the companies testing autonomous car technology on city streets to attend a summit with city leaders and public safety officials -- even though it's the state, not the city, that regulates self-driving cars.

"This is the first step in what I hope to be a very long dialogue together," Farrell told the gathering in his opening remarks. "From my point of view, this is the future of our city, this is the future of our roads."

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But addressing a who's who of the nascent autonomous car industry, Farrell couldn't help but also address the elephant in the room.

"Obviously, what happened in Arizona is very unfortunate," he told a gathering of reporters outside the meeting. "We certainly don't want to see that -- nobody wants to see that -- replicated anywhere around our country."

The meeting comes only a day after the release of new video from cameras mounted on the Uber vehicle that struck and killed a 49-year-old woman in Tempe, Arizona. The video shows the impact as Uber's Volvo SUV hit the woman without slowing down, as she crossed the street with her bicycle at night. Another angle shows the human safety driver, who did not appear to be looking at the road prior to the crash.

"It's exactly why we are collaborating," Farrell said. "Because we do not want that to happen on the streets of San Francisco."

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Step one, police say, is getting public safety officials into the loop.

"Training our officesr to interact with the vehicles, how do we deal with the vehicle in regards to any collisions and so on," said a San Francisco police commander who was present at the meeting.

San Francisco is a special case when it comes to driving: It's the second densest city in the country, with bikes and pedestrians everywhere. It's the kind of environment where autonomous car startup Zoox plans to focus its efforts. But the company's own chief safety innovation officer says the tragedy in Arizona proves there's a long road ahead.

"Shows you this is not ready for prime time, we've got to see all of this development still go on," Mark Rosekind said.

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For now, Zoox is testing with two people in the car -- a safety driver and a computer operator -- even as other companies forge ahead with permits to have remote drivers supervise their testing, with no one physically at the wheel.

Uber's testing remains suspended in San Francisco and three other cities. But soon, all of these companies are planning for full autonomy.

"You can't pull a car over and ask for license and registration if no one's driving the vehicle," Farrell said. "So we need to answer some very basic questions first."

Yet, the questions out of Arizona are more complex. Mark Rosekind was the Federal government's top dog on traffic safety under President Obama, before he came to work at Zoox. He said his experience has shown it's best not to draw conclusions about what happened in Tempe.

"More and more facts come out, the more complex, and probably important, this will be for all of us to learn about," he said.

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