They were only on the road for less than a day, but Uber has been told to hit the brakes on its self-driving cars as it turns out testing them wasn’t entirely legal.
Uber started testing its self-driving Volvos on public roads on December 14, but later that very same day the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued a letter to the company insisting that it “must cease” operating the cars or face legal action.
The reason Uber’s test is such a problem is the company hasn’t secured the permit necessary to legally use autonomous vehicles on the road. It’s not that Uber didn’t know this permit existed, the company just thought it didn’t need one.
No permit, no pick ups
According to Uber, there was no need for it to get a permit as the cars it’s testing are technically not autonomous since they require a qualified driver behind the wheel to intervene as needed.
It’s likely that Uber understood it was pushing its luck and clearly the DMV reads the law differently, and expects Uber to get a permit, just like the 20 other companies testing self-driving technology in the state have done.
In fairness to the state of California, Uber hasn’t given it absolutely no reason to be nervous; not long after the test launched, footage (opens in new tab) of what appeared to be one of Uber’s driverless cars running a red light was posted.
Though Uber has since officially stated (opens in new tab) that the incident was due to “human error” and the car wasn’t part of the program, it’s a good indicator of tensions around the project. Though a permit wouldn’t guarantee no accidents would happen, it would at least give the public and state officials more reasons to feel comfortable.