Man Arrested for Attempting to Steal Self-Driving Taxi in LA; Autonomous Cars Growing Popularity Despite Safety Concerns

March 4, 2024 - Reading time: 2 minutes

A man is facing an attempted grand theft auto charge after trying — and failing — to steal a self-driving taxi in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday night.

The LAPD said in a statement Sunday that Vincent Maurice Jones, 33, got into a fully autonomous Waymo car just after it dropped off a passenger on Main Street north of 1st Street, near City Hall, around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The suspect got into the driver's seat — but the alleged theft did not go according to plan. "Jones attempted to put the vehicle in 'Drive,'" the LAPD said, "but could not manipulate the controls." A Waymo representative was then able to speak to Jones remotely via the car's online communications system and told him to leave the vehicle, police said. When he did not, the representative called the police. Jones did not follow the instructions, and the representative contacted the LAPD, who arrived and arrested him, the statement added.

The police did not say whether he had been charged yet or was still in police custody. It is not known whether he has legal representation. Waymo did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. In California, attempted Grand Theft Auto is punishable upon a successful conviction with up to three years in prison if charged as a felony, and one year when charged as a misdemeanor.

Self-driving cars are an increasingly common sight in California. The California Public Utilities Commission on Friday granted Waymo, which spun off from Google in 2016, permission to expand its fleet of self-driving taxis across the greater LA area, after launching in San Francisco and Phoenix. Some 50,000 Angelenos are already on a waiting list for a free "on tour" Waymo ride. Despite their popularity, some policymakers and technology experts remain skeptical about self-driving cars, which have been documented running red lights and blocking first responder vehicles.

DW Staff

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