Dash cam video shows self-driving Uber running red light as company launches SF pilot program
Dash cam video posted online shows a self-driving Uber running a red light in San Francisco, on the same day the company launched its pilot program with several Volvo SUVs and met privately with Californian officials.
- Uber attributes infraction in front of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to "human error"
- Getting a permit for self-driving vehicles is not a complicated or lengthy process
- California threatens legal action if Uber continues without having gone through a permitting process
Uber said in a written statement that the driver was suspended and attributed the infraction in front of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to "human error".
That was an apparent reference to the company's policy that employees behind the wheel of the cars must constantly monitor them and be prepared to take over if the technology stops working, or is about to do something dangerous or illegal.
Far from playing defence, Uber offered the driver's failure as evidence of the need to continue pushing ahead a technology that proponents say will one day drive far more safely than humans.
"This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers," the company said in a written statement, which said the red light-running car was not one of those in its pilot program and was not carrying passengers.
Getting a permit for self-driving vehicles is not a complicated or lengthy process, and regulators would likely approve Uber's application, as they have permits for 20 other companies.
Instead, Uber has insisted it will not apply out of principle, saying its cars do not meet the state's legal definition of an "autonomous vehicle" and therefore do not need a permit.
Uber says the cars are exempt from the permit requirement because they have a backup driver behind the wheel who must monitor the car's performance.
Though the cars are tricked out with sensors so they can steer, accelerate and brake, and even decide to change lanes, Uber says they are not nearly good enough to drive without human monitoring.
And, according to Uber's reading of state law, that means they are not, legally speaking, "autonomous vehicles" that need special state permission.
Uber threatened with potential legal action over trial
Meanwhile, the negotiations over whether Uber must stop its newly launched self-driving car service in San Francisco have concluded without a clear resolution, according to California transportation regulators.
State officials have had a "positive conversation" with Uber about "how the company plans to comply with state regulations for self-driving vehicles," spokeswoman for California's State Transportation Agency Melissa Figueroa said, adding talks will resume Friday morning (local time).
Uber did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The state has threatened legal action if the company continues to pick up passengers in a handful of cars without having gone through a permitting process.
Both the California Department of Motor Vehicles and its parent transportation agency insist Uber is wrong and, hours after the self-driving service's launch, the state sent a letter saying the service was illegal because it lacked the permits.
"If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action," DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet wrote the company.
He referenced the possibility of taking Uber to court.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee joined the chorus of officials denouncing the move, calling it unlawful and ill-advised in a statement.
Mr Lee said he was worried about the safety of the city's cyclists and pedestrians, especially with the experiment launching in a week when streets are slick with rain.