Uber tests California laws with driverless cars in San Francisco

California regulators warned the company it had to stop immediately and get a state permit - or face legal action.

Uber employees are required to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times even in the self-driving auto, so there's a possibility this could have been human error all along.

The company did not respond to a request for comment about the state's legal threat.

It's day one of Uber's self-driving auto test in San Francisco, and already trouble is brewing amidst reports of vehicles running red lights and California regulators threatening legal action.

Far from playing defense, Uber offered the driver's failure as evidence of the need to continue pushing ahead a technology that proponents say will one day drive far more safely than humans.

"If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, [the Department of Motor Vehicles] will initiate legal action", the California regulator wrote to the firm on Wednesday.

Instead, Uber has insisted it will not apply out of principle, saying its cars do not meet the state's legal definition of an "autonomous vehicle" and therefore do not need a permit.

An Uber employee is still behind the wheel of the auto to take control if the vehicle falters or can't handle a portion of a ride.

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Currently, 20 other companies have permits to test self-driving vehicles in the state. And, according to Uber's reading of state law, that means they are not, legally speaking, "autonomous vehicles" that need special state permission.

The company argues that its cars aren't covered by the permit requirement, which says an "autonomous vehicle" requires a permit if it can drive itself "without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person".

"We have looked at this issue carefully and we don't believe we do", Uber said.

Operating without a permit could give Uber a competitive advantage, Soublet noted.

The launch in San Francisco, the city where Uber is headquartered, expanded a deployment of self-driving cars the company started in Pittsburgh in September. All that information is public.

Looks like a regular auto and acts like one too.

That outing seems to have worked, so Uber is now off to San Francisco with the specially converted XC90s as the relationship between Volvo and Uber grows, with Volvo building the cars and flogging them to Uber who then fit their own AD hardware and software (they're also a bit hard to miss with their roof-mounted gubbins).

However, that fail-safe, well, failed hours aftert the big launch when Uber blamed the car's driver for running a light in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, the San Francisco Examiner first reported.

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