San Francisco Hits Brakes on Self-Driving Ubers


The city of San Francisco sent a strong message to Uber last month: The ride-hailing service’s self-driving cars are not welcome on city streets and won’t be until they obtain the proper permits. The city threatened legal action if Uber persisted in its autonomous vehicle rollout, which was launched despite warnings by officials that Uber risked violating state and local laws. Uber claimed it was not subject to the regulations, although part of the disagreement appeared to stem from the company’s unwillingness to abide by rules that required it to publicly disclose any collisions the vehicles were involved in.

Sudden Appearance, Quick Withdrawl

San Francisco’s warning came within hours of Uber beginning its self-driving pilot in the city, which was immediately accompanied by reports of those vehicles running red lights. San Francisco had already complained that Uber—and the similar service Lyft—were causing problems in the city, including congestion and air pollution. As Uber’s pilot began, the city’s traffic enforcement officials appeared to be unaware that the vehicles had started operating on its streets.

Uber continued to insist that its vehicles were ready for use and that proper safeguards were in place. After the city’s warning, however, the company chose to abruptly pull the vehicles out of San Francisco and ship them to Arizona, where regulations are less strict and it already has a separate test underway. A test similar to the San Francisco pilot is also ongoing in Pittsburgh, another location with weaker regulation.

Within a week, the state of California revoked Uber’s permit to operate the vehicles there, citing the fact that Uber had put them on the streets without following the requirements of their existing agreement.

New Technology, New Questions

Self-driving vehicle programs have been underway for some time, with companies such as Ford and GM conducting tests. The most widely-known effort is the one run for several years by Google, whose vehicles had traveled a combined two million driverless miles by last October.

Self-driving vehicles have the potential to change the way transportation works, not only by slashing injury and fatality rates, but also in ways most people haven’t even considered. Fewer vehicles will be needed, as sharing becomes practical in real time, which can have major financial and environmental benefits. Fewer highways will be needed, because when all vehicles are aware of each other, they can use all lanes in all directions and collectively move in less space with fewer tie-ups. Even fewer streetlights will be needed, saving energy and reducing light pollution, as driverless vehicles will eventually have little or no need for nighttime illumination.

The safety of self-driving cars is still being debated, although they’ve performed well. Google’s vehicles have had numerous accidents, but all but one was the result of another driver hitting one of its autonomous cars. A self-driving Volvo made news when it accelerated into a crowd of reporters, but that later proved to have been the human driver’s fault. Tesla, meanwhile, saw a dramatic fatality last year, but its system is meant as a kind of enhanced cruise control, not a full-blown autopilot, so that crash has also been blamed on the driver.

Important unanswered questions focus on liability. When a self-driving car is in an accident, how is fault determined? Does blame reside with the owner of the vehicle—who is no longer the driver? Does it shift to the dealer who sold the car for selling a dangerous product? Or does responsibility lie with the manufacturer for producing and selling an item capable of causing harm when used as intended? Can some or even all of these parties be held accountable at the same time?

Uber was using Volvos in its pilot, a manufacturer which has stepped to the fore and promised that it will take responsibility for any damage or injury caused by one of its self-driving vehicles.

California Car Accident Lawyer

We don’t yet know the answers to many questions about self-driving cars. But we’re paying attention to them and following the issue carefully so that we’ll be ready when they are. At the Law Offices of J. Chrisp, we have helped many victims of auto accidents successfully pursue claims against those responsible for causing damage or injury. When it comes to the practice of automobile accident law, we understand that every case is unique, and we give every client our best effort.

Call us today at (707) 549-8166 or contact us online through the form on this page to schedule a free appointment to discuss the details of your case and learn what we can do for you.