Accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco: open letter

July 21, 2023

American roads are in crisis. Nearly 43,000 people died in traffic collisions last year, and 2022 was the worst for pedestrian deaths since 1981. 

These aren’t just statistics. These are parents, grandparents, siblings and children suddenly stolen from their families.

We are community partner organizations in San Francisco that believe we need to work with autonomous vehicle developers. The evidence to date shows that autonomous vehicles improve road safety, access to transportation, and the availability of zero-emission transportation. But instead of a debate driven by evidence, we have one dominated by misinformation. Productive conversations have been stymied by scaremongering.

We know why most car crashes happen. About 31% of American traffic deaths involve alcohol, and a similar percentage involve speeding. Autonomous vehicles eliminate these problems by design. They don’t get distracted, drive impaired or under the influence, or get tired. They are specifically programmed to follow road rules and not to speed. To them, a stop sign really does mean stop.

They increase access to transportation for members of the communities we represent. Far too many people still find it far too hard to get where they need to go safely — a status quo that needs to change. In Phoenix’s East Valley, a study with the regional transportation authority found that a higher number of elderly people and people with disabilities engaged in more out-of-home activities when autonomous vehicles were made available within paratransit options. The accessibility offered by autonomous vehicles - supported through critical partnerships and advocacy - can ensure this next generation of transportation is more inclusive than ever.

Autonomous vehicles can also help California meet its ambitious goals for zero emission transportation. Including emission from fuel production, transport is responsible for half of greenhouse gas emissions in California, and 80% of air pollutants. Autonomous vehicles are almost always electric. Rolled out as a hailable service, they open access to electric transportation to many who can’t afford their own electric vehicle.

These are huge strides we shouldn’t take for granted. Waymo’s application to the California Public Utilities Commission to extend its current operations in San Francisco is reasonable and proportionate. It enables clear oversight and scrutiny, and will give more San Franciscans the chance to benefit from and provide feedback on these services.

We urge the California Public Utilities Commission to approve Waymo’s permit at the earliest possible opportunity.

List of signatories:

  • Best Buddies International, Katelyn Quintero, State Director, California

  • Blinded Veterans Association. Donald D. Overton, Jr., Executive Director

  • Curry Senior Center, Arlo Bushnell, Director of Development

  • Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California, Carlos Quesada, CEO

  • Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco, Lana Nieves, Executive Director

  • LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Sharon Giovinazzo, CEO

  • Openhouse, Kathleen M. Sullivan, Ph.D., Executive Director

  • Students Against Destructive Decisions, Jessica Hugdahl, Interim Executive Director

  • Safe Kids Worldwide, Torine Creppy, President

  • Self-Help for the Elderly, Anni Chung, President and CEO

  • SF LGBT Center, Rebecca Rolfe, Executive Director

  • The Richmond Neighborhood Center, Michelle Cusano, Executive Director

  • United Cerebral Palsy, Armando Contreras, President and CEO

  • The Women's Building, Tania Estrada, Executive Director