Uber stops testing self-driving cars in San Francisco after red light incident

By: Dominic Licorish on December 22, 2016

Uber is hitting the brakes on its self-driving car pilot program in San Francisco after it refused to register its vehicles, even despite the fact that other companies testing their own self-driving cars in California were registered.

The announcement comes after a video surfaced last week of one of Uber’s “self-driving” Volvos running a red light in San Francisco. The company has been the target of criticism from many pundits in recent days for the way it’s been handling its pilot program in the city.

When it first showed up on the scene, Uber built a reputation of doing first and asking for forgiveness later. Even here in Canada, the company operates without following bylaws in some cities. When Uber launched its self-driving pilot program in San Francisco, it was told immediately that it was operating illegally, and needed a special permit to test its cars.

This permit would put Uber on the same playing field as companies like Tesla and Waymo (Google’s self-driving vehicle project), requiring it to mark vehicles as test vehicles, report any collisions to the public as well as any situations that required a human to take over controls.

Uber decided, however, that it would not register for the permit because it felt its cars didn’t fall under the state’s definition of “autonomous”. In a statement last week, the head of Uber’s driverless car program, Anthony Levandowski said:

“The regulations apply to ‘autonomous vehicles’. And autonomous vehicles are defined as cars equipped with technology that can — and I quote — ‘drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.’ But the self-driving Ubers that we have in both San Francisco and Pittsburgh today are not capable of driving ‘without … active physical control or monitoring’. ”

The company launched its program as a way to give is users firsthand experience with the new technology and was at first positively received by riders and drivers alike. Autonomous vehicles are likely to play a large role in the company’s future, but for now Uber acknowledges that its autonomous software isn’t sophisticated enough to be driven on streets without human intervention.

The company will try to find a new location to test its driverless vehicles, and according to Business Insider, hopes “to develop workable statewide rules” to operate in California