Uber recently began implementing their new self-driving car program in San Francisco, but California state regulators ordered the program shut down on the very first day of operations.  The state said Uber did not apply for a $150 permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles to operate the autonomous vehicles.  Uber claims that because humans are always at the wheel while the vehicles operate, it does not need a permit.  California regulators threatened legal action if the company does not stop driving its vehicles without state permits.  Regulators also argue that because the vehicles have technology that allows them to operate autonomously, the cars are self-driving.

Under California law, in order to operate self-driving vehicles on public roads, a company must receive an autonomous testing permit.  Uber claims that their vehicles aren’t technically autonomous, since there is always a person sitting behind the wheel, monitoring the vehicles’ functioning and responsiveness.  The company claims that the state rules apply to cars that can drive without someone either controlling them or monitoring them, while  Uber’s vehicles cannot operate without a person monitoring the vehicle’s actions.

California’s self-driving vehicle program is robust.  As of 2015, only five states and the District of Columbia allowed the testing of fully autonomous cars on public roads.  Twenty companies have received permits from California to use their self-driving vehicles on the roads, and over 130 vehicles are currently being tested.

In order to get the necessary permit from the DMV, companies must provide accident data on their autonomous vehicles.  They must also indicate how often autonomous driver mode is disengaged, which is an indication of the level of sophistication of each carmaker’s system.  . In this instance, Uber may be trying to avoid applying for the permit in order to keep their proprietary information from the public.  Uber hopes to become a leader in the self-driving car arena, and eventually replace its human drivers with robotic cars and trucks for both commuting and deliveries.  This fall, Uber launched a fleet of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as well.

California has the largest number of self-driving vehicles in the United States.  Federal regulators are considering national guidelines for developing and deploying driverless vehicles, in order to have uniformity across state lines.

Uber’s failure to obtain a permit is not the first misstep for the company.  In a video posted online, one of the company’s Volvos appears to be running a red light and almost hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk.  Uber stated that the incident was due to human error, which is why the company believes in building self-driving Ubers, which will take human error out of the equation.  The driver involved was suspended.  Other witnesses in San Francisco have also reported seeing Uber vehicles lurching through intersections.

It appears that San Francisco is at the center of the self-driving vehicle market.  Many people believe autonomous vehicles are the future of transportation.  Google’s self-driving vehicles have been on the roads since 2009, and a number of other companies in Silicon Valley are working to get their own self-driving vehicles on the roads.  Although this is a good boost for the area’s economy, many who live and work in the Bay area have expressed fears about autonomous vehicles being on the roads.  It’s also unclear legally how liability will apply when an accident involving a self-driving vehicle occurs.

Although there is much to be sorted out legally, it appears that autonomous vehicles are here to stay.  If you are in an automobile accident in which you have suffered injuries or serious property damage, call Micha Star Liberty, San Francisco personal injury attorney, at 510-645-1000.  Her team can help.  Call today to learn more or to schedule your free consultation.

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