Uber fights California efforts to regulate its self-driving cars

LOS ANGELES -- In just seven years, Uber has become a $70 billion ride-hailing behemoth despite, or perhaps because of, its reputation for ignoring local regulations.

But when Uber put self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco last week and a motorist caught one of those cars running a red light, California’s DMV drew the line. It ordered Uber to get an autonomous vehicle testing permit.

Uber said no.

“Our main reason for not applying is because we don’t think the regulations apply to how we’re driving the cars,” said Anthony Levandowski.

Uber claims all its self-driving cars in this testing phase have a “safety driver” behind the wheel, just in case.

“They operate on the theory of break first and ask permission later,” said Jonathan Handel, a law professor at the University of Southern California.

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Jonathan Handel

CBS News

“When you are deploying 3,000-pound pieces of hardware that roll through the jurisdiction and have the potential to cause injury or death, that’s a different issue,” he said.

As to why that car ran the red light last week? Uber says it was human error. And if the company obtains a permit it will be required to report those incidents.

“These are bits and pieces of black marks on what has otherwise been a lot of enthusiasm over driverless cars,” Handel said.

Uber says it’s being unfairly singled out, comparing its self-driving technology to the autopilot function on Tesla cars, which does not need a permit.