Consumer Watchdog Calls on San Francisco Police to Impound Uber’s Renegade Robot Cars

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on San Francisco police to impound Uber’s robot cars operating without a permit on city streets and asked City Attorney Dennis Herrera to file criminal charges against Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

California Motor Vehicle Code requires a permit for testing autonomous vehicles in the state. Violating the Motor Vehicle Code can be a misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by up to six months in jail.

“Uber is essential driving without a license and its CEO Kalanick should be treated like anyone else who does that,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Kalanick’s willful violation of the law requires prompt response to protect the public’s safety There have already been reports of Uber’s robot cars running red lights in San Francisco. Prosecutors must hold Uber’s executives responsible for their company’s outrageous actions.”

Testing autonomous vehicles in California requires a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Currently 20 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in the state, demonstrating that following the rules is no barrier to innovation, Consumer Watchdog said.

Among the DMV requirements are that the test driver behind a steering wheel be licensed and trained to operate the vehicle and a company must show insurance coverage of $5 million. Reports of any crashes must be filed, as well as an annual “disengagement” report spelling out circumstances when the self-driving technology failed and the human driver took control.

Important information about the state of the robot technology comes from the disengagement reports. For instance, Google’s driverless car unit, now renamed Waymo, said its self-driving technology failed 341 times in 425,000 miles – 272 times because the software couldn’t cope, turning over control to the test driver and 69 times when the driver decided to intervene for safety reasons. The next disengagement reports are due to be filed with the DMV Jan. 1, 2017.

“Uber is threating public safety and trying to avoid providing important information about its activities,” said Simpson. “Using public roads as your laboratory carries responsibilities. Uber is ignoring them and shamefully flouting important safety requirements. It must be stopped immediately.

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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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