Uber’s driverless vehicles will return to California roads, but in a limited way where it will not immediately start picking up passengers as it is in other cities such as Philadelphia. According to an Associated Press news report, Uber received a permit this week to test two Volvo SUVs on public roads from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Regulators also approved 48 people as “backup drivers” who must sit behind the wheel ready to take over if the prototype vehicles malfunction.
Uber’s Testing in San Francisco
This permit essentially resolves a dispute between the DMV and Uber dating back to December when the rideshare company rolled out a pilot program putting more than a dozen cars in San Francisco. Uber knew about the DMV’s requirement to get permission before testing in public. However, it argued that the cars did not meet the state’s definition of an autonomous vehicle because the backup driver would be in the car to intervene if necessary. That argument didn’t sit well with regulators and other companies with similar technology that took the time to get these permits.
The pilot program caught the state and city officials off guard. The situation was made worse by reports from citizens of cases where Uber driverless vehicles were running red lights. In one case, it almost struck a pedestrian who was walking in the crosswalk raising the question of what the so-called backup driver was doing at the time or why he or she allowed it to happen. Uber stopped the testing in San Francisco and sent its vehicles to Arizona where it began picking up passengers last month.
Concerns Over Driverless Rideshare Vehicles
The problem we’ve had with these driverless vehicles is putting them on the street before properly testing them and ironing out potential safety issues that might arise. Putting driverless vehicles on roads high in pedestrian and bicycle traffic is asking for trouble because pedestrians and bicyclists are more vulnerable to serious injuries.
While driverless technology is cutting-edge and comes with the promise of saving lives and making roadways safer, it cannot happen until we ensure that the vehicles are safe to be on the road. We the public cannot be treated like lab rats. It is simply unacceptable. It would also be interesting to see how our laws deal with liability issues involving these vehicles in the future. We’ll be watching driverless cars pretty closely!