Uber defies California regulators and keeps its self-driving cars on the road – Business Insider

Posted: Saturday, December 17, 2016

Uber self-driving Volvo SUV
Uber’s self-driving cars in San


Uber will continue operating self-driving cars on San
Francisco streets, defying California regulators that claim it’s
running the program illegally. 

In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Uber’s vice
president of advanced technologies, Anthony Levandowski,
said that the company stands by its argument that its cars do not
meet the definition of autonomous vehicles. 

Despite using the moniker “self-driving”, the cars are not
capable of driving without the active monitoring of a human in
the front seat, Levandowski said.

Instead, Uber is arguing that its cars are more aligned with
electric car maker Tesla’s autopilot feature — an advanced driver
assistance system, but not a car that’s fully autonomous. 

“The problem is that it doesn’t apply to us. There’s no
reason to get regulations,” Levandowski said. “You don’t need to
get belts and suspenders or whatever else if you’re wearing a

The California DMV did not respond to a request for

Uber’s defiance of the regulations comes at a time of
heightened public concern around the new technology. On the same
day that Uber began testing its self-driving cars with the public
this week, one of the vehicles was seen
running a red light
as a pedestrian entered the crosswalk
(Uber has said the incident was the result of human error, and
that the automated driving feature was not enabled at the

How the feud began

The public spat between Uber and California regulators began on
Wednesday when the
company launched
a new self-driving car pilot
similar to the program it’s already running in

As part of the pilot, Uber riders who request an UberX have a
chance to be matched with a self-driving vehicle. While a
trained driver and engineer still have to sit in the front seat
and be ready to take over the controls at a moment’s notice, the
goal is to have the fleet of a dozen or so vehicles largely
driving themselves through the compact and crowded streets of a
big city.

Yet, Uber and the California DMV immediately started trading
barbs over whether or not its car program should be permitted
under California regulations. The DMV put out a statement saying
that Uber “shall” get the permit to test its self-driving
vehicles on public roads, but the company told
Business Insider at the time
that it had no plans whatsoever
to apply for a permit since it didn’t believe its cars fit the
state’s definition of autonomous vehicles. Under the regulations,
advanced autopilot systems, like Tesla’s, are not regulated
whereas Google’s testing of its autonomous vehicle adheres to
strict rules.

When we look at how the Tesla vehicles operate, we see us
operating in the same exact manner,” Levandowski said.

Uber self-driving car
screen in the back of the Uber shows what the self-driving
cameras see in the world around the car. Here, cars pass in front
of the Uber at an intersection in San

Biz Carson/Business

The DMV has disagreed with this from the start. The
agency sent
Uber a letter on Wednesday afternoon
, hours after the
testing had started, telling the ride-hailing company to
stop the launch of its self-driving car pilot or face legal

“Had Uber obtained an autonomous vehicle testing permit prior to
today, the company’s launch would have been permissible,” the DMV
said. “… If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop
its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal
action, including, but not limited to, seeking injunctive

The California DMV did not respond to request for comment
on whether it was planning to initiate legal action now that Uber
has publicly said it “respectfully disagrees” with the

For now, Levandowski said the pilot program and the
self-driving testing cars will remain on California roads for the
foreseeable future.


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