In late December 2016, the ride-hailing company Uber was told to halt all autonomous vehicle testing until it had acquired the necessary California driving permits. Companies like Google, Tesla and BMW have all been compliant in following California road safety vehicle testing measures. Uber had been the single holdout in obtaining permits that would grant them access to test their auto technology on public roads.
A week before the state’s department of motor vehicles communicated to the company that they needed to follow protocol, one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles ran a red light in San Francisco, where the program was first launched.
Had the self-driving car hit another vehicle or a pedestrian, would the company’s California auto insurance have covered the damage, or would the claim have been denied, as the pilot program had not been officially approved by the state? If the company had liability insurance, they would have been covered, but any damages sustained to their own vehicle property would have to have been paid for out of pocket.
After Uber neglected to get the necessary permits to run their pilot program, the DMV revoked the company’s registration permits of 16 of their self-driving cars. The director of California’s DMV, Jean Shiomoto said, “this [driving] technology holds the promise of enhanced safety and mobility, but [it] must be tested responsibly.”
If Uber was not willing to abide by the rules, they would not be able to legally test their automated vehicles on public roadways.
Uber v. California Auto Laws
Following the registration pulls, Uber continued to test their vehicles on public streets. It was not until California’s Office of the Attorney General sent a letter to the company requiring it to remove the vehicles from motorways or face penalty that the company pulled the program.
For a moment it was thought that they would get the required permits and continue to run their pilot program in the state, this was not to be the case.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey tweeted at the ride-hailing company, saying the state would gladly support Uber’s technology efforts and would impede on the process with bureaucratic paper pushing. In a statement about the new partnership, Governor Ducey said, “Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads. While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses.”
It can be said that technology has its limits. Was California wrong in pulling Uber’s vehicle registrations, or were they safeguarding against an unforeseen and possibly tragic event?
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dean and Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College Jon Garon says that “California has created a fairly complex but pro innovation statute that balances the needs to develop the technology with the need to ensure public safety.” California is not trying to impede technology and innovation, rather the state is working to make sure that in the process, innocent bystanders are not getting hurt.
According to Bloomberg, this is not the first time California and Uber have bumped heads. California regulators have had talks with the company about its taxi and labor rules. Apparently getting another permit for their pilot program was the straw that broke Uber’s back.
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