DMV Wins: Uber Removes Self-Driving Cars From San Francisco Roads After Registrations Revoked

Just over a week after Uber, apparently convinced the law applies to everyone else but not the world's most valuable and cash burning Unicorn, launched car self-driving tests in San Francisco, despite not only not getting regulatory approval but with the DMV slamming the move.

"We have a permitting process in place to ensure public safety as this technology is being tested," the DMV said at the time. "Twenty manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California roads. Uber shall do the same." However, as we said at the time, it was "unclear if Uber will face any consequences. The DMV declined to say what, if any, recourse would be pursued for companies testing without a permit.  Otto, Uber's self-driving arm, has defied regulators before without consequence. Earlier this year, before being acquired by Uber, it tested a self-driving truck in Nevada, despite a warning from the state's DMV that it was violating state rules. The news was revealed in a Backchannel report."

However, when a self-driven Uber car was caught on tape running a red light later that same day, the DMV's list of options was narrowed, and prompted the agency to issue a cease and desist order to Uber.

Uber also ignored this latest escalation, and continued the self-driving car test.

Then overnight, Uber's little PR stunt met an abrupt end after the California Department of Motor Vehicles said on Wednesday it revoked the registration of 16 Uber self-driving cars because they had not been properly permitted. For the last week, the agency was demanding that Uber shut down its program and comply with regulations requiring a permit to test self-driving cars on public roads.

As a result, Uber finally removed its self-driving cars from San Francisco streets, halting the autonomous program one week after its launch, despite again claiming that it was not obligated to have a permit because its vehicles require continuous monitoring by a person in the car. San Francisco was supposed to be Uber's second testing ground for its self-driving cars. The company unveiled its self-driving cars in September in Pittsburgh.

"We're now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules," an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement. California defines autonomous vehicles as having the capability to drive "without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person."

Uber has argued that the law does not apply to its cars, which cannot stay in autonomous mode continuously. A driver and an engineer are in the front seats to take over frequently in sticky traffic situations such as construction zones or pedestrian crossings. As we reported before, Uber's defiance was met with threats of legal action from the DMV and the state attorney general.

The DMV told Uber that if it had obtained a permit, the regulator would have given the green light to the self-driving pilot. DMV director Jean Shiomoto said in a letter sent to Uber on Wednesday that she would "personally help to ensure an expedited review and approval process," which she said can take less than three days.

Uber, however, does not want to do this for one simple reason: the permit process, largely seen as a public safety measure, requires companies to provide the DMV with accident reports. Should the public be made aware of any major traffic incidents, it would lead to a PR disaster for the company which has bet heavily on self-driving cars as its next growth platforn. Uber has also complained that its home state has favored complex rules over technological innovation, translation: "the rules should not apply to us."

The DMV disagreed.

“Consistent with the department’s position that Uber's vehicles are autonomous vehicles, the DMV has taken action to revoke the registration of 16 vehicles owned by Uber,” a DMV spokesperson said in a statement. “It was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles. Concurrently, the department invited Uber to seek a permit so their vehicles can operate legally in California.”