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SAN FRANCISCO (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — A self-driving Uber car was caught on camera allegedly running a red light in San Francisco Wednesday. Uber launched the fleet of self-driving Volvo SUV’s Wednesday morning, just hours before the incident.
Dashboard video from a Luxor Cab captured the Volvo apparently running the light after the taxi had stopped for the light.
Hours after Uber began picking up San Francisco passengers in self-driving cars Wednesday, California regulators warned the ride-hailing company to stop immediately and get a special state permit — or face legal action.
Uber launched its public pilot program in the morning. By midafternoon, the California Department of Motor Vehicles sent the company a letter saying the service was illegal because the cars did not have a permit the department requires for putting autonomous vehicles on public roads.
As of Wednesday night, the self-driving Volvo luxury SUVs — distinctive in look with sensors protruding from their top — were still plying San Francisco’s streets. The company did not respond to a request for comment about the state’s legal threat.
“If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action,” DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet wrote the company. He did not specify what that might entail but referenced the possibility of taking Uber to court.
Uber knew about the DMV’s permit requirement but argued that its cars do not meet the state’s definition of an “autonomous vehicle” because they need a person behind the wheel to monitor and intervene if needed.
Making the distinction on the definition of an autonomous vehicle is in line with Uber’s history of testing legal boundaries. Although the company has been around less than a decade, it has argued with authorities in California and around the world about how much of its drivers’ histories should be covered in background checks and whether those drivers should be treated as contractors ineligible for employee benefits.
The launch earlier in the day in the city where Uber is headquartered expanded a deployment of self-driving cars the company started in Pittsburgh in September. The testing lets everyday people experience the cars as Uber works to identify glitches before expanding the technology’s use in San Francisco and elsewhere.
It deployed a “handful” of Volvos — the company wouldn’t release an exact number — that have been tricked out with sensors so they can steer, accelerate and brake, and even decide to change lanes.
The cars have an Uber employee behind the wheel to take over should the technology fail. Users of the app may be matched with a self-driving car but can opt out if they prefer a human driver. Self-driven rides cost the same as ordinary ones.
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