Consumer Watchdog calls on California DMV to revoke Otto’s self-driving truck registrations

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US consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has called on California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to revoke the registrations of Otto’s “robot trucks”, claiming the company had been illegally testing its self-driving technology in the state.

In a complaint to the DMV, John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director, wrote: “As you know, testing self-driving vehicles in California requires a permit, something that 21 companies have obtained with no problem.

“Moreover, self-driving vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds cannot be tested in the state under current regulations. Otto’s robot trucks fail on both counts. They have no permits and they weigh too much.”

Otto’s “wanton disregard of the law” was clear from the company’s own statements, wrote Simpson.

Referring to a submission by Otto to the Colorado Department of Transportation, he noted that the document’s description of self-driving testing activities in the San Francisco area “clearly describes illegal testing”.

The document, originally given to Colorado authorities ahead of Otto’s demonstration of its self-driving technology to haul a trailer of beer across the state, was obtained through a public records act request.

In addition to its call for the DMV to cancel Otto’s self-driving truck registrations, Consumer Watchdog urged the regulator to revoke the registrations of several self-driving cars owned by Otto parent company Uber, which were at the centre of a spat over testing permits last year.

According to the consumer group, the self-driving vehicles have recently returned to San Francisco, with Uber claiming they would be carrying out data-gathering and mapping exercises, and not operating in self-driving mode.

But, based on Otto’s recent behaviour, “there is absolutely no reason to take Uber’s word for anything”, said the complaint.

The letter concluded: “Otto’s activities are even more flagrant violations of the law than Uber’s were. We call on the Department to act immediately to protect public safety by revoking the Otto vehicles’ registrations and seeking penalties for both the company and its executives to the fullest extent permissible under the law.  

“Because Otto’s behavior calls into question the honesty of Uber’s claims, you should revoke the registrations of its robot cars that have just returned to California.”