A week after launching their self-driving cars for testing by the public in San Francisco, car-hailing major Uber Technologies has halted the program. The move was a forced one after the California’s Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registrations of 16 cars, citing the fact that they were not properly permitted for testing on roads.
Uber had earlier tried to argue that because there were humans at the wheel at all time when the car was under test, they would not require special permits. Apparently, that didn’t hold water with the DMV, which revoked the registrations on Wednesday.
After Pittsburgh, San Francisco was the second “proving grounds” for Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars. The Pittsburgh tests started back in September with 100 Volvo XC 90s fitted with fully autonomous technology, similar to the cars deployed a week ago in San Francisco.
Seen from the DMV’s perspective, they don’t be appearing to play hardball with the car-hailing company. In a letter to Uber by DMV director Jean Shiomoto, she mentioned that she would “personally help to ensure an expedited review and approval process,” which she said could take as little as three days.
It would seem that, had Uber applied for the permit before beginning their tests – or even after they received the first notification from the DMV or the state’s attorney general – the situation may not have escalated to this point where Uber has to halt the tests. The relationship with the DMV may not have soured yet, and Uber may still have a chance to regain traction on California roads. But the company appears to have different plans altogether:
“We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules.”
Looking at the situation now, however, it’s not clear whether they will actually apply through proper channels or simply move their tests to another state, like Michigan, for example, which recently passed into law a series of bills legalizing self-driving cars on the roads, and not just for testing.
The San Francisco tests have been going on for about a month now, but it opened up to passengers only on December 14.
It’s possible that Uber may still apply for the permits that will allow these cars to continue their test program, but for now this is a major setback for Uber in their home state – one that could have easily been avoided had it not held the view that the state “favored complex rules over technological innovation.”
It’s not like the DMV doesn’t want companies to test their self-driving cars on the road. The DMV requirement was merely for the safety of the general public, and for the company to provide accident reports that can be linked to self-driving cars. In fact, a Reuters report shows that the state have already approved 130 such cars from 20 different companies, including Google, Tesla and Ford.
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