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California says Uber must halt its self-driving car service in San Francisco

The legal battle begins.


Chantel McGee


Posted on Dec 14, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 9:28 am CDT

Uber’s self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco for the first time on Wednesday. Just as quickly, the vehicles were brought to a screeching halt by California regulators after this video showing one running a red light in the city went viral.

In the video, a gray Volvo SUV goes through a red light while a taxi with a dash camera stopped at the light captures the footage.  

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Uber did not file for a permit to operate autonomous vehicles in the state. The company found a loophole around doing so, but after this incident the safety of the technology is being brought into question and could lead to legal action from the DMV.

In a statement the DMV said the following:

The California DMV encourages the responsible exploration of self-driving cars. We have a permitting process in place to ensure public safety as this technology is being tested. Twenty manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California roads. Uber shall do the same.

In a letter from the DMV’s Deputy Director/Chief Counsel Brian Soublet to Uber’s Vice President of Engineering Anthony Levandowski, the department makes its position clear.

It is illegal for the company to operate its self-driving vehicles on public roads until it receives an autonomous vehicle testing permit. Any action by Uber to continue the operation of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology on public streets in California must cease until Uber complies. It is essential that Uber takes appropriate measures to ensure safety of the public. If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action.

According to Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler, there were no passengers in the car at the time of the incident and it was being operated by a human who has since been suspended while the company investigates. 

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*First Published: Dec 14, 2016, 11:35 pm CST