Uber has been investing in self-driving technology for years now, and as of recently, the San Francisco-based company also started testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in Pittsburgh. As these initial experiments yielded satisfactory results, the ride-hailing firm began expanding its self-driving initiative. Yesterday, Uber officially brought its autonomous car fleet to San Francisco and started picking up passengers, but interestingly enough, the company didn’t acquire approval from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). According to Uber’s representatives, DMV’s blessing wasn’t necessary because the company doesn’t see its new car fleet as autonomous. Namely, while all of its new vehicles that started operating in San Francisco yesterday are technically driving on their own, two Uber employees are always present in them in case anything goes wrong. In other words, Uber claims that while these cars are indeed self-driving, they’re not autonomous.
However, it seems that the DMV doesn’t follow Uber’s train of thought as the said Californian agency asserted that the ride-hailing company broke the law by rolling out this new self-driving fleet without approval. In a letter sent to Uber yesterday, DMV’s Chief Counsel Brian Soublet explained that any kind of testing of self-driving cars on public roads in California requires an autonomous vehicle testing permit. After pointing out that Uber is indeed breaking the law, Soublet asked the company to cease this activity until the situation can be resolved. So, while Uber was arguing that its self-driving cars aren’t autonomous, it seems that the DMV doesn’t differentiate between the two. Unfortunately, the San Francisco-based company has yet to respond to requests for comments on this letter.
The situation was only made worse by the fact that Uber has already been testing its new self-driving fleets on San Francisco roads for weeks without even notifying the DMV which found out about the program on Monday, shortly before Uber started picking up passengers with its new cars. Of course, the primary purpose of acquiring a testing permit from the DMV is public safety. With that in mind, Uber’s endeavors aren’t helped by the fact that one of the company’s self-driving vehicles was recently recorded running a red light in San Francisco. While Uber blamed the incident on a driver and added that the said car was not picking up any passengers, it’s clear that this entire mess will only spell more legal trouble for Uber. However, it remains to be seen what course of action the DMV will take to stop the company from testing its new fleet in San Francisco before acquiring the necessary permissions.