Wednesday, December 21, 2016

California DMV revokes Uber’s driverless cars’ registrations; Uber takes them off the road and agrees to seek standard test permit, then says it’s cancelling the test instead

The impasse between Uber, the ride-hailing company, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), an agency of the State of California, had apparently been resolved as the DMV revoked the registrations of the cars involved in Uber’s permitless testing of cars it said were “self-driving” but in need of monitoring, thereby exempting themselves from the requirement that autonomous vehicles must have a special permit to operate on California’s roadways; and Uber agreed to take the cars off the road and apply for the proper permit, before the ride-sharing company apparently changed its mind and said it was cancelling the test in California entirely.

First, the DMV sent out this press release:

“Consistent with the department’s position that Uber's vehicles are autonomous vehicles, the DMV has taken action to revoke the registration of 16 vehicles owned by Uber.  It was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles.  Concurrently, the department invited Uber to seek a permit so their vehicles can operate legally in California.

“California’s testing regulations for autonomous vehicles strikes a balance between protecting public safety and embracing innovation. These regulations were adopted two years ago, and they are working for the 20 manufacturers now testing more than 130 autonomous vehicles on California’s streets and roads.  Uber is welcome to test its autonomous technology in California like everybody else, through the issuance of a testing permit that can take less than 72 hours to issue after a completed application is submitted.  The department stands ready to assist Uber in obtaining a permit as expeditiously as possible.”

It also released copy of the letter that DMV Director Jean Shiomoto sent to Uber earlier today.  The letter was addressed to Mr. Davis White at Uber Technologies, Inc. and read as follows:

Dear Mr. White:

I understand you spoke with California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly this morning and informed him that Uber has removed all of its autonomous vehicles from the public roadways.  I appreciate the action that Uber has taken in the interest of public safety.  I also understand that Uber is interested in applying for a California autonomous vehicle testing permit.

I want to reassure you that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) stands ready to work with you collaboratively.  The autonomous vehicle testing application process is simple and straightforward.  The application materials are available on our website (  I have dedicated a team to work with you to expedite the approval process.  You can reach the Autonomous Vehicles Testing Permit Team at (916) XXX-XXXX if you have any questions.  I will also personally help to ensure an expedited review and approval process.

The DMV fully supports the advancement of autonomous technologies.  This technology holds the promise of enhanced safety and mobility, but must be tested responsibly.  We are committed to assisting Uber in their efforts to innovate and advance this ground-breaking technology.


Jean M. Shiomoto

cc:       Brian P. Kelly, Secretary, California State Transportation Agency
            Bernard C. Soriano, Deputy Director
            Brian G. Soublet, Deputy Director/Chief Counsel

Brian Soublet wrote the original letter to Uber telling them back on December 14th that they needed to get a permit before they could test their self-driving cars in the streets of San Francisco.  You can read that letter here.

Ars Technica reported four hours ago that Uber would be terminating its self-driving car testing in California, rather than applying for a permit, as implied in the letter to Mr. Davis.

If true, this would render moot Director Shiomoto’s offer to give every priority to Uber in applying for a testing permit.   

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