California orders Uber's self-driving cars off the road

The ride-sharing company argues that it doesn't need a special permit – as its cars aren't truly self-driving...

California orders Uber's self-driving cars off the road

A self-driving Uber (with driver) in San Francisco. Picture by Eric Risberg AP/Press Association Images

Uber's self-driving cars can no longer be found on California roads, after their state registrations were revoked on Wednesday. 

The ride-sharing company had been locked in talks with state regulators for a week, AP reported, after the Californian Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) threatened it with legal action mere hours after it launched its self-driving service in its hometown of San Francisco.

Uber's cars had a bumpy start on Bay City roads themselves, with witness accounts of cars breaking red lights, making potentially hazardous turns across busy bike lanes at intersections (though the company had told its employees to make such turns themselves before launch) and more. 

The DMV argued that Uber required the same permit as the 20 other companies currently testing the automated technology in the state. Uber countered that this was not required because – although they have been promoting the cars as "self-driving" – the vehicles do not have the ability to continuously drive themselves as yet. Instead, they must be constantly monitored by a trained human driver, meaning they don't fall under a true "autonomous vehicles" remit. 

The company has thus far refused the DMV's offer that it can seek a permit to make their vehicles legal, as they were previously not properly marked as test vehicles. Working with a permit would require Uber to report all crashes and times when a human takes control during the testing. Uber's rival, the Google-created Waymo, has already reported 29 accidents since its cars took to the streets in 2010, for example.

Uber has already started testing the cars in the Midwestern city of Pittsburgh, ironing out glitches in real-life situations (without the need to release accident information) whilst simultaneously promoting them with the general public. It is currently eyeing up other US cities for similar.