Uber, the original ride hailing company, has been testing self-driving vehicles in San Francisco. It has now suspended the tests because of a disagreement with state regulators. While many observers remain steadfast in their belief that self-driving autos will dominate US roadways in the future, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) apparently is not convinced.
DMV officials threatened to revoke Uber vehicle registrations if they did not cease testing these autos. The DMV states that Uber needs the “special permits” the other firms testing self-driving vehicles in California have obtained.
Uber Disagrees with the California DMV
The company disagrees. The Uber position is that it doesn’t need special permits because its vehicles do not use technology that allows their cars to always drive themselves, contrary to advertising them as “self-driving” vehicles. They say drivers must frequently take control of their cars.
The California DMV maintains the auto registrations were mistakenly issued because Uber did not flag them as “test” cars. The DMV “invited” the company to seek permits and permission to operate these vehicles legally in California. Since the Uber home is San Francisco, the DMV believes this offer is reasonable.
Uber is now studying how and where it could use these vehicles, while the company states it’s 100 percent committed to California. Uber also says it will work harder to achieve “workable” statewide rules legislatively. The DMV received support from the Mayor of San Francisco, who said he was happy the DMV chose “enforcement action.” He further stated that he was a staunch supporter of self-driving vehicle development, but only when it puts “human, bicyclist and pedestrian safety first.”
The company maintains that their vehicles’ drivers need to “constantly monitor” their cars, and take control at any time. This position is the foundation for their arguments that these autos are not “autonomous vehicles” as defined by California law.
San Francisco is actually the company’s second self-driving vehicle location. September 2016 marked the launch of self-driving autos in Pittsburgh, PA. This long-term test identifies technology quirks and offers drivers and passengers real-world experience with autonomous vehicle technology.
The company hopes to continue testing without special permits, which provide some benefits. Testing without these special permits provides advantages, unavailable to the competition with testing permits. The major benefits: Special permits require companies to report all accidents involving self-driving vehicles in California. Conversely, the Pittsburgh test does not require Uber to release crash information or instances where driver control was required to avoid crashes.