Uber halts tests of self-driving cars

A controversial Uber test of self-driving cars in San Francisco was brought to a halt Wednesday¬†after the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the vehicles’ registration.

DMV officials Wednesday said they have revoked the registration of 16 self-driving vehicles owned by Uber:

“It was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles. … Concurrently, the department invited Uber to seek a permit so their vehicles can operate legally in California.”

Uber officials confirmed that they have stopped the self-driving pilot, a company spokesperson said in a statement:

“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.”

Uber announced last Wednesday that it would begin offering UberX customers service in “self-driving” Volvo XC90s in San Francisco, after operating a test run of similar service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for several months.

However, DMV officials called for a halt to the pilot program that same day, saying the ride-booking company had failed to obtain a state permit for testing autonomous vehicles.

Uber officials argued that the vehicles did not legally qualify for the permit program because they required drivers to monitor them at all times and therefore were not technically autonomous. Uber Vice President Anthony Levandowski called the stance a “matter of principle,” but some reports have suggested the company may wish to avoid reporting test data, as would be required under the state permit program.

The company remained defiant even after the state attorney general’s office stepped in on Friday with a threat to “seek injunctive and other appropriate relief” if Uber did not immediately stop testing.

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto today said in a letter to Uber today that she understood the company is now interested in applying for a state testing permit.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has joined in the calls from the state for Uber to stop operating the self-driving vehicles in the city without a permit, and had asked the city attorney’s office to weigh possible legal actions.

The debut of Uber’s self-driving vehicles drew safety concerns following multiple reports of the vehicles running red lights.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier has also said that in a demonstration of the vehicles he participated in they took unsafe right turns through a bike lane more than once without merging properly:

“I told staff from Uber’s policy and engineering teams about the safety hazards of their autonomous vehicle technology. They told me they would work on it. … Then, two days later, they unleashed their technology on San Francisco’s streets. Your streets.”

The coalition has launched a petition among its members calling on Uber to address unsafe turning issues in the self-driving vehicles.