Uber and California disagree on use of company’s self-driving cars in San Francisco

View of san francisco cityscape and skyline on sunny day

Uber has announced the introduction of its self-driving Volvos onto the streets of San Francisco, three months after their arrival in Pittsburgh.

However, California’s regulator quickly pointed out that the company did not have the necessary permit and would require one before being able to test its cars on the state's roads.

In an announcement by Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber's Advanced Technology Group, the company said: “Starting today, riders who request an uberX in San Francisco will be matched with a Self-Driving Uber if one is available. 

Creating a viable alternative to individual car ownership is important to the future of our cities. And to get there, we need to fuse our ridesharing network with world class self-driving software and hardware.
— Anthony Levandowski, Head of the Advanced Technology Group, Uber

“Expanding our self-driving pilot allows us to continue to improve our technology through real-world operations.”

The company said that the promise of self-driving was central to its mission. 

“As demand for ridesharing continues to skyrocket, the future of transportation will be a mix of human drivers and self-driving cars,” said Uber.



Is Uber allowed to operate self-driving vehicles in San Francisco?

In its announcement, Uber addressed the question of regulation – specifically whether the company requires permission to use its self-driving vehicles on California's streets.

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

He went on to explain that because the company’s self-driving cars are not yet capable of operating without supervision, it does not believe the state’s rules apply.

Self-driving cars in San Francisco: Uber video promoting its new launch

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), however, does not agree.

“The California DMV encourages the responsible exploration of self-driving cars,” the Department said in a statement.

“We have a permitting process in place to ensure public safety as this technology is being tested.

“Twenty manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California’s roads. Uber shall do the same.”

As part of its autonomous vehicle testing programme, the DMV has issued permits to twenty carmakers. Uber does not appear on that list, which was last updated on 8 December.

Adding to the company’s woes, The Guardian reports that two of Uber’s self-driving vehicles have been spotted performing traffic offences by other road users in San Francisco. Uber reportedly blamed the red-light violations on 'human error'.


The California DMV encourages the responsible exploration of self-driving cars. We have a permitting process in place to ensure public safety as this technology is being tested. Twenty manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California roads. Uber shall do the same.
— California DMV Statement Regarding Testing of Autonomous Vehicles