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Uber faces legal action over its deployment of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco

Californian authorities have threatened online transportation company Uber with legal action after they refused to adhere to state regulations in relation to its self-driving vehicles. Uber have deployed a number of its self-driving vehicles on the roads in San Francisco.

However, they have not been permitted to do so. Uber have since publicly declared that that they deliberately ignored state regulations as a ‘matter of principle’. Critics have blasted Uber’s defiant stance – and have described their move as a blatant disregard for law and safety.

It has since been disclosed that twenty companies have been approved to test self-driving cars in California, but it has been established that Uber is not one of these companies and it is refusing to abide by the same rules as its rivals by proceeding to test self-driving cars in the state whilst prohibited to do so.

California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris warned that Uber would face legal action if they didn’t remove its self-driving vehicles from the roads with immediate effect. Uber insist that the rules and regulations currently in place in relation to the testing of self-driving vehicles – wasn’t applicable to the company’s fleet of cars because of its particular form of technology.

A letter from the attorney’s office read: “The DMV ordered Uber to either remove its self-driving cars from the road or obtain a permit on Wednesday, the first day the company began a trial of its self-driving taxis in San Francisco without permission. If Uber does not remove the vehicles from the road until it obtains a permit, the attorney general will seek injunctive and other appropriate relief.”

The head of Uber’s autonomous vehicle program responded by saying: “We cannot in good conscience sign up to regulation for something we’re not doing. It’s an important issue of principle about when companies can operate self-driving cars on the roads and the uneven application of state-wide rules across very similar types of technology. You don’t need a belt and suspenders if you’re wearing a dress.”

Uber’s defiant stance on the situation appears to be sending the firm on a collision course with Californian regulators in court, with the DMV saying if Uber does not remove the vehicles it will initiate legal action against the global ride-sharing firm.

Uber began using autonomous vehicles to pick up fares in Pittsburgh in August. The city is home to Uber’s self-driving-car research facility, and the pilot program has been warmly received and encouraged by local officials. Unfortunately for Uber, in San Francisco, the pilot program has so far been a public relations disaster.

There have been reports of two self-driving Ubers running red lights on Wednesday, the first day of the pilot. The company blamed the traffic violations on “human error” and has suspended the drivers involved. However, the company was not asked about the red light violations during a conference call with reporters Friday and has not responded to follow-up questions seeking an explanation.

With Uber unlikely to change its stance, it seems inevitable that the dispute will have to be resolved inside the Californian courthouse.