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Uber Plotting a Showdown in San Francisco

Uber Plotting a Showdown in San Francisco

(AP/Paul Sakuma)

By Thursday, 22 December 2016 10:01 PM Current | Bio | Archive

It looks like Uber and its self-drivers might have a showdown with San Francisco and California.

California and San Francisco say companies that wish to test autonomous tech must have permits issued by the state. The permit costs $150 and the companies that have applied have received them. Uber says it doesn’t need the permit because the vehicles have drivers in them and cites Tesla’s Autopilot as an example of a non-permitted self-driving vehicle company.

Full disclosure: I am always leery of a government issued permit, because sometimes—not always—the permit is to do something that we should already have the right to do, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. And while I have sided with Uber in the past regarding its right to do business without government interference, I think this is different.

The difference of course is safety. It is worth noting that there is video of a self-driving Uber running a red light in San Francisco during the first day of testing. And now, according to Tech Crunch, bicyclists are taking issue with Uber’s self-drivers.

The advocacy group alleges that self-drivers don’t merge into the bike lane before turning, which is safe for bicyclists; instead the cars make a “right hook” which can cause injury or death to bicyclists in the bike lane.

This brings us back to the permit. According to Forbes, there is a liability and surety that the company applying for the permit must agree to and I think this is really the issue here. Uber’s business model holds individual drivers financially liable for damages and accidents, not the company. While I appreciate that model for conventional vehicles, I don’t necessarily agree with Uber’s stance for self-drivers. Someone must be responsible, right?

The permit also requires companies to release safety data for the state’s own records and accident data. In other words, if Uber's vehicle has an accident under the permit requirements, Uber must report the accident to California DMV. Without a permit, Uber doesn’t have to report, which means the government can’t track the technology’s performance.

In the meantime, Uber is committed to defying the law and California is committed to seeking an injunction or other legal means to force Uber’s compliance.

Beyond the issue of who is right and who is wrong, I foresee this as a common occurrence in the future where tech and laws haven’t caught up with each other yet. For me that is the most important issue since that gray areacould possibly endanger people using public roads.

Final Thought:

In another safety matter, this time with conventional vehicles, FCA is being investigated again. This time for its rotary dial shifter.

If you have an FCA vehicle equipped with a rotary shifter stay tuned to see if there is a recall and then get it taken care of. And if there is a recall, hopefully FCA will move a little faster than it did for the Monostable shifter.

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach® is a nationally recognized automotive expert, media guest, journalist, author, keynote speaker and television host. Post your comments on Twitter: @LaurenFix or on her Facebook Page.

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It looks like Uber and its self-drivers might have a showdown with San Francisco and California.
uber, san francisco, california, riders
Thursday, 22 December 2016 10:01 PM
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