Roadkill: DMV flattens Uber's self-driving car effort in CA

The ride-hailing company halts its controversial autonomous car program after defying state regulators.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
Watch this: Uber stops its self-driving cars in California

Uber has pulled its self-driving cars from California roads.

After a weeklong standoff, the ride-hailing company has given in to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles and Office of the Attorney General, which had told Uber its self-driving car program violated California law.

On Wednesday evening, the DMV forced Uber's hand by revoking the registration of 16 of the company's autonomous vehicles. The DMV said in an email on Wednesday that it had determined the registrations were "improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles."

In an email, Uber confirmed it had ended its California pilot program and said it was looking for alternative uses for its vehicles.

"We're now looking at where we can redeploy these cars," a company representative wrote. "But [we] remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules."

Uber made its name by pairing passengers with drivers via a phone app. Over the past six years, it's grown from a small startup to multinational company with operations in more than 400 cities in 72 countries. The company has a history of launching products and features before getting the required permits. Uber's rollout of self-driving cars in San Francisco was no different. And, unsurprisingly, this move rankled lawmakers.

Uber started its self-driving car program in San Francisco last week. But within hours of the launch, the DMV told the company it was breaking the law and needed to halt the program until it got a permit.

In characteristic fashion, Uber said it would keep the cars on the road.

California's Office of the Attorney General then got involved, sending a letter to the company demanding it "immediately remove its self-driving vehicles from California public roadways until it obtains the appropriate permit." If it didn't, the attorney general would "seek injunctive and other appropriate relief."

Uber said the reason why it wouldn't get a permit is because the law doesn't apply to its self-driving cars. Because humans constantly monitor its vehicles while driving and can take over control at any time, they aren't yet autonomous vehicles, Uber said.

The DMV says, however, the law applies to the kind of technology in the vehicle, not whether a human is behind the wheel. So if the car is equipped to be autonomous eventually, it's subject to the law.

Uber met with the DMV and Office of the Attorney General on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for the DMV. The company also spoke with California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly to inform him that it had removed all of its self-driving cars from public roads.

In a letter to Uber on Wednesday, which was provided to CNET, the director of the DMV Jean Shiomoto said the agency "stands ready" to work with Uber and will assist the company in applying for an autonomous vehicle testing permit.

"This technology holds the promise of enhanced safety and mobility," Shiomoto wrote, speaking of self-driving cars. "But must be tested responsibly."

Twenty other companies working on self-driving technology have already received permits from California's DMV, including Google, Tesla, BMW, Ford and Honda. The DMV said it can take less than 72 hours to get a permit once the application is submitted.

So, even though Uber's self-driving cars are off the roads for now, they could be resurrected.