Uber Escalates War With Regulators Over Self-Driving Cars

Uber says the California DMV doesn't understand its own rules about driverless cars.

SAN FRANCISCO ― Uber’s self-driving cars will continue to ply the streets of San Francisco despite growing threats of legal action by state officials if the company refuses to obtain proper permits.

Uber plans to defy the California Department of Motor Vehicles demand that it seek autonomous vehicle permits, because company executive Anthony Levandowski said Friday that the cars are not truly driverless and therefore not subject to the regulations.

“It’s hard to understand why the DMV would seek to require self-driving Ubers to get permits when it accepts that Tesla’s autopilot technology does not need them,” Levandowski said on a conference call with reporters. “We asked for clarification as to specifically what is different about our tech from the DMV, but have not received it.’

The state attorney general’s office responded with its own threat against the tech giant on Friday, saying the office will intervene if Uber fails to obey the regulations.

“If Uber cannot advise the undersigned that it will immediately remove its self-driving vehicles from California roadways, until it obtains the appropriate permit, as 20 other companies have done, the Attorney General will seek injunctive and other appropriate relief,” wrote Miguel Neri and Fiel Tigno, both supervising deputy attorneys general, in a letter to Levandowski.

A small fleet of Volvo SUVs and Ford Fusions using a form of autopilot began transporting passengers around the city on Wednesday, but there was always a human in the driver’s seat able to retake control, the company has said.

The ride-hailing service’s latest feature got off to a rocky start as another motorist recorded one of the Volvos speeding through a red light. Uber said the car was under human control at the time and that driver has been suspended.

The DMV sent a threatening letter the same day to Uber warning the company that it was not in compliance.

“If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action,” the DMV’s letter to Uber reportedly said.

Uber compared its auto-driving technology to what’s found in Tesla’s luxury cars — yet Tesla is one of 20 automakers and other companies who have acquired permits from the DMV to experiment with driverless features.

Mayor Ed Lee on Thursday also ordered Uber to remove its self-driving cars.

As it has rapidly expanded, Uber has been unafraid to clash with city officials, such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and other regulators who have tried forcing the company to accept standards similar to those imposed on taxi and limousine operators.

Uber first introduced self-driving vehicles to customers in Pittsburgh in September.

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