Self-Driving Ubers Run Red Lights In San Francisco; Company Blames Humans

Image courtesy of Charles Rotter

You know those self-driving SUVs that Uber has unleashed on San Francisco? The ones that the state of California says are illegal and wants off the roads, since the company didn’t seek approval yet? Yesterday, others on the roads noticed one of the vehicles running a red light, which Uber blames on the car’s human operator.

In the current tests, the cars are operating autonomously, but with a person in the driver’s seat, ready to take over, and an engineer observing the car’s actions. That’s how the company’s autonomous vehicle tests in Pittsburgh work, too.

Uber and the state of California are having a disagreement about whether the company can legally start ferrying customers around in autonomous cars, or whether the company needed a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles before beginning the test.

The dashboard camera footage of the incident comes from a traditional cab company, Luxor. While it’s easy to see why a traditional cab company might want to fling mud at Uber, the company’s operations manager brought up safety concerns. A car pulling into an intersection full of pedestrians could kill someone, he told the Guardian. “This is obviously not ready for primetime.”

In another incident yesterday, a passenger who had hailed a ride using competing app Lyft noticed one of the self-driving Volvo SUVs pulled into an intersection and snapped a picture.

She told the Guardian that perhaps letting the cars loose in San Francisco was done too early. “I don’t think anybody has a good understanding of how this works in a city context,” she observed.

In a statement, Uber blamed the human operators of the cars for the traffic violations, saying that the incidents prove why autonomous cars will keep us safer, not the opposite.

“These incidents were due to human error,” the company explained in a statement about the two incidents. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. The drivers involved have been suspended while we continue to investigate.”

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