Take a Number and Wait: Calif. DMV Tells Uber to Halt Driverless Car Plan

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Thursday ordered Uber to remove its driverless cars from the streets of San Francisco or face legal action.

Uber announced it would begin making a fleet of driverless cars available in the streets of San Francisco on Wednesday, saying that “creating a viable alternative to individual car ownership is important to the future of our cities.”

But the Golden State’s DMV took issue with the move, telling the company by letter that it needs a permit if it’s “intending to test its autonomous vehicle technology on California’s public roadways.”

In the letter, signed by DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet, the department says it developed regulations for autonomous vehicles two years ago aimed at fostering innovation while protecting public safety.

“Twenty companies are approved to test a total of 130 test vehicles that are being driven by more than 480 permitted test drivers in California,” Soublet wrote. “They are obeying the law and are responsibly testing and advancing their technology.”

Soublet said unless Uber ceases its driverless car program immediately, it will seek a court injunction.

“It is illegal for the company to operate its self-driving vehicles on public roads until it receives an autonomous vehicle testing permit,” Soublet wrote. “Any action by Uber to continue the operation of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology on public streets in California must cease until Uber complies.”

Uber appears ready to defy the DMV’s order.

While the company did not respond to a request for comment, its head of advanced technology group Anthony Levandowski said the company does not believe it needs a permit because there is a driver in the autonomous vehicle monitoring its performance.

“We understand that there is a debate over whether or not we need a testing permit to launch self-driving Ubers in San Francisco,” Levandowski said in a Wednesday post. “We have looked at this issue carefully and we don’t believe we do.”

The company notes that a similar program has been running in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, for about three months without problems.

“Several cities and states have recognized that complex rules and requirements could have the unintended consequence of slowing innovation,” Levandowski wrote. “Pittsburgh, Arizona, Nevada and Florida in particular have been leaders in this way, and by doing so have made clear that they are pro technology. Our hope is that California, our home state and a leader in much of the world’s dynamism, will take a similar view.”

Uber is headquartered in San Francisco, and has earned a reputation for pushing into local markets ahead of regulators. It has stoked the ire of cabbies who see the technology company as attempting to render their vocation defunct.

The company’s practices have also prompted labor conflicts as regulators wrestle whether to classify Uber drivers as employees or independent contractors