Just a day after California’s regulators shut down Uber’s self-driving car program in San Francisco, the rideshare company has sent the autonomous vehicles to Arizona saying it’s going to resume testing them there. According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, the move was a quick rebound by Uber after its pilot program in San Francisco fell apart in just one week. Uber refused to play by the state’s rules and apply for a $150 permit to test its driverless cars on public roadways. Uber spokespersons have said that the program has the support of Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey.
Uber’s Standoff with the DMV
Uber had refused to seek a California permit before sending its fleet of driverless cars to pick up passengers on San Francisco’s streets. The company maintained that it did not need the authorization because its vehicles are not completely autonomous. Uber’s driverless cars in San Francisco had a driver behind the wheel ready to take control if necessary.
This week, after a contentious standoff, the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registrations of the Uber driverless vehicles forcing them to go off the road. Governor Ducey has promised that that the self-driving cars will not need a special permit in Arizona to drive on public roads. Last year, Ducey signed an executive order supporting the testing and operation of self-driving cars.
The San Francisco Experiment
The experiment with driverless cars in San Francisco did not go without a hitch for Uber. There were a few reports of these cars running red lights. In one case, a report stated that it almost struck a pedestrian after running a red light. Uber has issued statements that the red light violations in San Francisco have been the result of “human error” and that the drivers, not the technology, have failed to follow traffic laws. But Christopher Koff, owner of a sandwich shop near where the red light-running incident occurred, tells The Guardian that the Uber driverless car accelerated into an intersection while the light was still red, and while the automation technology was clearly controlling the car.
The Need for Accountability
Of course, this is not the first time an autopilot has failed. In May, the autopilot sensors on a Tesla vehicle failed to distinguish a white big rig crossing the highway against the bright sky leading to the first known death caused by a self-driving car. Uber also admitted to the Guardian that its cars in San Francisco have a problem with the way they cross bike lanes and that the company’s self-driving cars in Pittsburgh have reportedly crashed into other cars and even driven the wrong way on a street.
There are two really important issues here. First and foremost, if Uber’s vehicles are not ready for primetime, the company needs to acknowledge that. The public cannot be their guinea pigs during the testing process. The other issue is that regardless of whether the violations and accidents occur in self-driving mode or due to human error, Uber needs to step up and take responsibility for the dangers posed by cars.