Uber plans to apply for California self-driving permit

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Uber says it is working on an application for a California self-driving car permit — two months after the company publicly refused to do so and moved its autonomous vehicles from San Francisco to Arizona.

The Mercury News first reported that the company has been working with the California Department of Motor Vehicles on the application process. An Uber spokeswoman said the department has reinstated the registrations for two of the company’s self-driving Volvo XC90s, which are currently operating in San Francisco in manual mode.

This is an apparent about-face by Uber, which first deployed its self-driving cars in San Francisco to pick up passengers in December 2016 and refused to apply for the appropriate state permit. Nearly two dozen other companies have received state-issued permits to test self-driving cars in California.

Shortly after it began, Uber’s pilot program in San Francisco garnered criticism after residents flagged several incidents involving the self-driving vehicles, such as running red lights.

About a week later, the DMV revoked the registration of the 16 self-driving Volvos. The company responded by moving the vehicles to Arizona, a state that requires no special permits or licensing to test self-driving cars.
The cars still need appropriate certificates before they can be officially registered in California, said DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez. Once they are registered, Uber can apply for the self-driving car permit, a process that typically takes about 72 hours.

Under California law, self-driving cars have to disclose to the DMV whenever they are involved in a traffic infraction or when their cars need to be taken over by a human.

Lawmakers around the country are figuring out how to regulate the new technology. Legislation varies by state, and California has one of the most stringent laws for self-driving cars.

An Uber spokeswoman said the decision to apply for a self-driving car permit, which has been in the works for about a week, makes good on the company’s promise that it is “100 percent committed to California.”
It is unclear exactly when the company will apply for the permit.

John Simpson, an advocate with Consumer Watchdog, said Uber’s plans suggest the company is “starting to grow up.”

However, “as demonstrated when their self-driving cars flouted the rules and cruised the streets of San Francisco in December, their test cars aren't ready to carry passengers,” he said.

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