How San Francisco Turned Self Driving Cars into Ugly Ducklings

By Lindsey Patterson January 17, 2017

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has stopped Uber from operating its self-driving Volvos on San Francisco’s roads. Uber had been test-driving its autonomous cars for one week until the DMV revoked its registrations. The company had deployed 16 self-driving cars to the San Francisco streets, which would pick up paying passengers. However, the DMV stated that the cars were not properly registered and they would need to obtain a permit for them to operate the vehicles on the streets.

Decline to Obtain Permits

Uber Technologies has, however, refused to get the permits and registrations required. The company's officials claim that the cars are not fully autonomous and they need a human driver to operate them. In a registered testing car, the manufacturer should report any traffic accident involving the testing car. However, Uber wants to avoid all the accidents caused by the vehicles, hence the decline to acquire registration. The DMV takes less than 72 hours to complete the registration process. Therefore, it would not have taken long for Uber to have the testing continue in San Francisco.

Previous Self-Driving Testing By Other Companies

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has in the past given permits to 20 companies such as Google, Waymo, and Tesla Motors to run their testing in San Francisco and other cities in the state. The 20 companies have used 130 self-driven vehicles on the roads, but they had to comply with the rules. Therefore, the DMV would not exempt Uber from acquiring a permit.

Uber's Self-Driving Cars

Uber began in San Francisco over seven years ago, and it launched its first self driving car test in Pittsburgh in September 2016 with the Ford Fusion sedans. It started inviting San Francisco residents to try its cars in December. Uber’s expensive self-driving car is a Volvo XC90 with a LIDAR sensor, leather interior, computing power at the trunk and a rooftop camera. The cars have a safety driver who operates the vehicle whenever the need arises. The driver also takes control when the car kicks itself out of the autonomy mode.

Violation of Traffic Rules

Besides their excellent features, the self-driving cars have broken a few different traffic rules on San Francisco roads. A video emerged a few hours after the commencement of the pilot test that showed one of the vehicles turning on a red light while a pedestrian was crossing the road. The San Francisco residents took to social media complaining about various violations from the self-driven vehicles. Uber stated that the mistakes were “human errors” and that it would suspend the drivers responsible. There have also been instances where the cars used the cyclist paths instead of the roads.

After the DMV revoked the registration of the car, Uber has relocated its fleet of vehicles to Arizona. This is after receiving the support of Governor Ducey, who signed an executive order supporting the testing of autonomous vehicles in the state. The Department of Transportation in Arizona also requires the registration of the driverless autos, and they must have AZ car insurance for them to operate on the roads. However, California has stricter rules than Arizona regarding autonomous vehicles, making it convenient for Uber to run the tests. The testing for the Volvos will be on Arizona’s wide-open roads, and they will run for several weeks.

As much as the world is evolving and technology has gone a notch higher in the 21st century, people and businesses still need to pay attention to traffic rules. Despite earlier disagreements over these rules, Uber has confirmed its support of California state and its interests in developing workable rules for everyone in the state.




Edited by Alicia Young

Contributing Writer

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