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Uber can resume testing self-driving cars in California

Permit ends months-long tussle between the ride-hailing company and the state's DMV. But the result is a much smaller pilot program.

Uber had to halt its self-driving car project in San Francisco in December.
James Martin/CNET

Uber's self-driving cars can now return to California's streets, but don't expect to jump into one anytime soon.

The ride-hailing company was granted a permit Wednesday to test two autonomous cars on public roads, the California Department of Motor Vehicles said Wednesday. The development ends a months-long tussle between the DMV and Uber, which had refused to get the necessary permit, contending that the law didn't apply to it.

But the pilot program will be shrunk significantly. Uber's permit authorizes the company to operate only two self-driving cars compared with the 16 it hit the streets with in December. It will also allow 48 people to sit behind the wheel of the vehicle to take over vehicle operation in the case of malfunction.

While Uber can continue its pilot program, the company said Wednesday it has no plans to resume with passengers onboard as it did before. A spokeswoman said the cars haven't yet returned to the streets, and it wasn't immediately clear when that would happen.

The permit promises a smoother regulatory path for Uber, which had a rather bumpy reception from the DMV within hours of its self-driving car launch in San Francisco in December. The department told the company it was breaking the law and needed to halt the program until it got a $150 permit.

Uber refused to back down, contending that the law didn't apply to it, and said it would keep the cars on the road. That led the DMV to revoke the registrations of 16 of the company's autonomous vehicles. Instead of paying the $150 fee for the permit, Uber packed up its cars and moved to Arizona.

The San Francisco-based startup changed its tune last week, saying it would apply for the permit that would put it in compliance with the same California rules as more than 20 other companies working on self-driving technology in the state, including Google, Tesla, Honda, BMW and Ford.

One of the key issues complicating Uber's initial rollout was concern for public safety. The day of Uber's launch in San Francisco, one of the self-driving cars was recorded running a red light. Similar incidents were reported throughout the city in the following days.

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