AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES: Uber pulls AVs out of California after DMV spat

Dec. 22, 2016

The transportation company’s response surprised few in the industry, given the company's history of challenging restrictions

Uber has decided to pull its self-driving cars from California roads after state regulators moved to revoke those vehicles’ registrations. The move comes after a week of talks between the ride-hailing company and state regulators failed.

Just hours after Uber launched the service in its home base of San Francisco, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) threatened legal action if the company did not cease and desist. The cars need the same special permit as the 20 other companies testing self-driving technology in California, regulators argued.

Uber maintains it does not need a permit because the cars are not sophisticated enough to continuously drive themselves, although the company promotes them as “self-driving.” The ride-hailing company says the cars must constantly be monitored by a human driver trained to take control at any time, so they don't fall under California's permitting requirements for “autonomous vehicles.” The DMV nonetheless ruled that registrations for the vehicles were improperly issued because they were not properly marked as test vehicles. The agency invited Uber to seek a permit so their vehicles could operate legally in California — an offer the company said it did not plan to accept.

Uber said in a statement that it was looking for where it could redeploy the cars, but remained 100% committed to California and would redouble its efforts “to develop workable statewide rules.”

Parsing the definition of an autonomous vehicle is the latest example of Uber testing legal boundaries. In recent years, the company has argued with authorities in California and elsewhere about how to check the criminal backgrounds of its human drivers and whether those drivers should be treated as contractors or employees.

San Francisco is Uber's second self-driving city; its first cars have been cruising around Pittsburgh since September. In Pittsburgh, Uber has not been required to release any information about crashes.