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Uber Halts San Francisco Driverless Cars As DMV Revokes Test Fleet Registration

FORBES
http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2016/12/21/ubers-san-francisco-driverless-car-tests-end-as-dmv-revokes-vehicle-registrations/#319375607afa

Uber’s puzzling defiance of a California requirement that it get a $150 permit to operate self-driving cars in San Francisco came to an end with the ride-hailing company announcing it was suspending the program. Uber had little choice: California's Department of Motor Vehicles revoked registrations for its 16-vehicle test fleet earlier in the day.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

Uber’s stance began with the start of the test program on Dec. 14, acknowledging from the get-go that it had decided not to seek Autonomous Vehicle Testing permits, despite the fact that they aren’t particularly difficult to get. Currently, 20 companies testing a total of 130 autonomous vehicles in California have already received them, as have several individual test drivers, according to the DMV.

Aside from paying a $150 fee, applicants agree to provide accident data and disengagement reports – how frequently a human driver takes control from the automated system. Conceivably, Uber doesn’t want to provide that information for the public to see.

Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber’s self-driving vehicle team, told reporters last week that such a permit wasn’t needed for the Volvo XC90 SUVs in the San Francisco test fleet since each vehicle had two technicians in the front seats at all times. The company began a similar public test program in Pittsburgh in September, the headquarters for its driverless car research efforts.

The state DMV strongly disagreed and the California Attorney General’s office demanded that Uber comply or halt the program.

“Consistent with the department’s position that Uber's vehicles are autonomous vehicles, the DMV has taken action to revoke the registration of 16 vehicles owned by Uber,” the agency said in a statement. “It was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles.”

The DMV “invited” Uber to apply for permits to put them back into service, something the company is now interested in doing, according to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto.

"The autonomous vehicle testing application process is simple and straightforward," Shiomoto said. "I have a dedicated team to work with you to expedite the approval process."

Uber has a reputation for balking at rules and has fought numerous legal battles with cities and taxi operators over its practices.

While California is known for strict regulations, guidelines for autonomous vehicles aren’t particularly onerous to the many companies already following them, including Ford, Honda, Google (now Waymo), Tesla, Nissan, Delphi and Bosch.

“California’s testing regulations for autonomous vehicles strikes a balance between protecting public safety and embracing innovation,” the DMV said. “Uber is welcome to test its autonomous technology in California like everybody else, through the issuance of a testing permit that can take less than 72 hours to issue after a completed application is submitted. The department stands ready to assist Uber in obtaining a permit as expeditiously as possible.”

Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica, California-based consumer advocacy group, earlier on Wednesday, blasted Uber for its refusal to get a permit.

“Uber has claimed they’re refusing to get permits ‘on principle.’ That’s nonsense; they just don’t want to reveal how flawed and dangerous their robot cars are,” John M. Simpson, director of the group’s privacy project, said in a statement. “We’re already getting reports of their robot cars running red lights and other drivers slamming on brakes to avoid a crash.”

While Uber’s course of action in this case suggests an ulterior motive, exactly what that is remains unclear.