Driverless Cars

The DMV Ends Uber’s San Francisco Self-Driving Car Trial

Uber tried to fight the DMV and the DMV won.

Driverless Cars
Dec 22, 2016 at 10:32 AM ET

Uber’s law-flouting attempt to put self-driving cars on San Francisco’s streets has come to an end, after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles decided to pull all of its autonomous fleet’s registrations.

On Wednesday, the DMV said in a statement that “it was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles.” Uber had introduced its small self-driving fleet to the city a week ago, but never got permits from the state to do so. Uber said it didn’t need permits, as the cars were not “fully autonomous” because they had drivers in them ready to take over if something went wrong. Uber believes this is the same as the autopilot feature in Tesla’s cars, and since they don’t need special permits, it shouldn’t, either.

“The regulations apply to ‘autonomous vehicles,'” said Anthony Levandowski, who heads up Uber’s self-driving program. “Autonomous vehicles are defined as cars equipped with technology that can — and I quote — ‘drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.’ But the self-driving Ubers that we have in both San Francisco and Pittsburgh today are not capable of driving ‘without … active physical control or monitoring.'”

While Uber’s test run of these cars in Pittsburgh has gone relatively smoothly, during the week that Uber’s self-driving cars were on San Francisco roads, there were reports from witnesses who saw them run red lights (Uber chalked those up to human error) and it was discovered that a “flaw” in the cars’ programming could cause it to suddenly turn across the city’s bike lanes, potentially right in front of or into a bicyclist (Uber said it was working on fixing that and told the human drivers to take over the wheel when turning in front of bike lanes in the future). This probably didn’t help its case with the DMV much. Registrations: revoked.

Uber told Recode that it “does not have plans” to apply for the self-driving permits all the other driverless car companies in the state have.