When ride-hailing goliath Uber announced yesterday that it had begun offering rides in its self-driving Volvos in San Francisco, it caught quite a few people by surprise. Including, it would seem, the state of California. Because according to the Associated Press, within hours of Uber releasing the autonomous cars into the wild, the California Department of Motor Vehicles told the company to shut it down.
"If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action," Brian Soublet, chief counsel for the state DMV, wrote, according to the AP.
The issue at hand, as The Drive’s Liane Yvkoff wrote yesterday, is Uber’s lack of proper permits to operate an autonomous vehicle in the state of California. The DMV requires any self-driving car being tested on public roads in the state to acquire special dispensation to do so. Currently, there are 20 companies with permits to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s highways and byways.
Uber, for its part, is well aware of its lack of the proper permits. But the mobility giant claims it doesn’t actually need them, claiming there’s a loophole big enough to drive an XC90 through. The law, the company claims, only applies to cars that don’t need a human supervising their operation, and Uber’s autonomous vehicles aren’t far enough along for that to apply.
In addition to building up Uber’s take-no-prisoners-and-give-zero-cares image, choosing to forgo the usual permitting process potentially gives Uber a couple of competitive advantages. Companies that go through the traditional process have to report any accidents or instances where a human driver is forced to seize control—information which all becomes part of the public record. On top of that, subverting the traditional process means Uber doesn’t have to prove to the state’s satisfaction that it’s properly insured or that it has the required amount of prior testing.
The AP report claims Uber and the California DMV are scheduled to meet later today to try and work through their disagreement. While Uber has plenty of money to wage a legal war against the Golden State, considering the company is based in San Francisco (and has become an important part of the state’s infrastructure), it seems more likely that the two will come to some sort of settlement. As the old saying goes, you can’t fight city hall...and that goes double for the state house.
And now, today's episode of Drive Wire: