Uber relents and suspends self-driving car tests in San Francisco

The move is a climbdown for Uber, which had been threatened with legal action if it continued

Uber has halted its self-driving car trials in San Francisco and agreed to work with state regulators on obtaining proper permits for 16 test cars. The move amounts to a climbdown by Uber, which had last week argued it didn't need to obtain the permits.

That sparked a demand from the state that the cars be pulled off the roads immediately and a threat of legal action if they were not.

Uber had argued its cars didn't require autonomous car permits because they didn't meet the law's definition of being autonomous. It said the cars require a driver in the front seat at all times, and so are not autonomous but more akin to Tesla cars with advanced auto-pilot software.

The state didn't buy the argument and on Wednesday morning Uber's public affairs director spoke to California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly to tell him the cars have been taken off the streets.

Uber also signaled it won't resume the self-driving car trials in California until it has a permit from the state.

Entering the state's permit program costs Uber nothing more than some time filling out paperwork and a US$150 fee but it comes with an important provision that Uber will now fall under: all accidents involving the cars, whether in self-driving mode or not, need to be reported to the state.

California publishes the reports online, so Uber's testing will now be subject to greater public and press scrutiny.

The state's Department of Motor Vehicles has revoked the registrations that were initially issued to the 16 cars, saying that was done so in error, so they can no longer be driven on California roadways.

"We're 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," Uber said in a statement.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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