California DMV Smashes Uber Self-Driving Car Service With Banhammer

Uber is trying to make its hometown of San Francisco the second city in the United States to benefit from its self-driving car service but it is meeting resistance by state authorities. After announcing the rollout on Wednesday, California regulators jumped in and demanded that Uber park its self-driving fleet because the company lacked the necessary permits for autonomous vehicles.

"It is illegal for the company to operate its self-driving vehicles on public roads until it receives an autonomous vehicle testing permit," Brian G. Soublet, deputy director of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, told Uber in a letter. "Any action by Uber to continue the operation of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology on public streets in California must cease until Uber complies."

Uber in San Francisco

This apparently came as a surprise to the ridesharing startup. Before its big event in San Francisco, the question of whether Uber was allowed to test self-driving cars on city roads in the area was brought up. Uber insisted it was compliant with all state and federal laws. The company was banking on the fact that its self-driving cars required a driver to be present behind the wheel to take control in case of emergencies, as the department of motor vehicles (DMV) defines autonomous vehicles as ones that drive "without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person."

For a short period on Wednesday, users who summoned a ride through Uber's app might have been picked up by one of the company's XC90 vehicles equipped with self-driving technology. Up to three passengers could fit in an XC90 and use a touch screen to see the car's route and surroundings. Passengers were also allowed to take selfies from a camera in the back seat.

"The promise of self-driving is core to our mission of reliable transportation, everywhere for everyone. As demand for ridesharing continues to skyrocket, the future of transportation will be a mix of human drivers and self-driving cars," Uber stated in a press release announcing the expansion into San Francisco.

Uber operates a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh and has yet to run into an issue there. It wanted to expand to San Francisco to see how its technology would handle a new environment, one with steep hills. That will have to wait until Uber secures the necessary permits.