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Man arrested and accused of trying to steal a self-driving taxi in L.A.

The suspect "attempted to put the vehicle in ‘Drive’ but could not manipulate the controls,” Los Angeles police said.
Self-driving Waymo cars on the road in Santa Monica
An electric vehicle outfitted with Waymo full self-driving technology in Los Angeles in February 2023. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

A man faces a charge of attempted grand theft auto after someone tried — and failed — to steal a self-driving taxi in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday night.

Los Angeles police 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. Saturday.

The thief got into the driver's seat — but the theft did not go according to plan.

"Jones attempted to put the vehicle in 'Drive' but could not manipulate the controls," police said.

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 police, they said. Jones did not follow the instructions, and the representative contacted police, who arrived and arrested him, the statement added.

Police did not say whether he had been charged yet or was still in police custody. It was not known whether he has legal representation.

Waymo said in a statement that "an unauthorized pedestrian entered one of our vehicles Saturday night in Los Angeles as a rider was exiting. After communicating with the individual and instructing them to exit the vehicles, our Rider Support team contacted the police, who were then able to remove and arrest them."

The statement added that there were "no injuries reported by the rider or damage to our vehicle."

In California, attempted grand theft auto is punishable by up to three years in prison if it is charged as a felony and one year when it is 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 greater Los Angeles, after it launched in San Francisco and Phoenix.

About 50,000 Angelenos are already on a waiting list for a free "on tour" Waymo ride.

Despite self-driving cars’ popularity, some policymakers and technology experts remain skeptical about them. They have been documented running red lights and blocking first responder vehicles.

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