Autonomous Car

The California DMV Says The Self-Driving Volvo XC90 Ubers Are Illegal

Uber's response will likely be something along the lines of "meh."

Uber of all companies should know how fast things move in the tech world. One day you’re grumbling about not being able to catch a cab and the next you’re ordering a ride from someone you’ve never met using your smartphone. Or, say, one day you launch a self-driving fleet of Volvo XC90s in San Francisco and hours later the state’s regulators tell you to shut the pilot program down or face the consequences. The AP reports that the California Department of Motor Vehicles sent Uber a letter saying it must get a permit for its autonomous cars.

If no permit application is filed the letter says the DMV “will initiate legal action,” although it fails to specify just what that means. Uber says the new cars aren’t subject to California’s regulations since they aren’t truly autonomous. A technician sits in the driver’s seat to take the controls should things get hairy. As it turns out things have apparently already gotten hairy, with a San Francisco taxi driver’s dash cam capturing footage of a self-driving Volvo XC90 Uber running a red light. What’s worse is that a pedestrian was in the crosswalk as the robo-controlled SUV sped through. The San Francisco Examiner reached out to Luxor Cab and confirmed that the video was taken on December 14th, the day the service launched.

The clip isn’t very dramatic and the video quality isn’t all that good. Regardless, you can clearly see the Volvo blowing the light and failing to account for—or accounting for and not caring about—the pedestrian in the intersection.

Uber is famous for shrugging off government complaints around the world so don’t expect it to cower to the demands of the California DMV. As for Volvo, well it’ll be interesting to see how the Swedish automaker reacts to this development. Technically it’s in the clear since all it did was sell the XC90s to Uber. But what if one of the XC90s gets in an accident or hits a pedestrian? That kind of publicity would be awful for an automaker with budding autonomous driving ambitions.

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