The rules of the road don’t just cover cars — there are conveyances of the two-wheeled variety out there as well. Considering many human drivers don’t understand how to share the streets with bicycles, it’s somewhat unsurprising that Uber is admitting that its autonomous vehicles are having a hard time dealing with them as well.
Just a few days after Uber and the state of California escalated their slapfight over the ride-hailing company’s newly launched fleet of self-driving cars in San Francisco, which the state Department of Motor Vehicles says is illegal, the company says it knows the vehicles have a “problem” with how they cross bike lanes, potentially endangering cyclists.
A company spokeswoman told The Guardian that engineers are working to solve an issue in the car’s programming that causes the vehicles to cut across bike lanes: the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition released a warning about Uber’s autonomous vehicles after the group’s executive director tested the car two days before launch.
“In the ride I took through the streets of SoMa on Monday, the autonomous vehicle in ‘self-driving’ mode as well as the one in front of it took an unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane. Twice,” he writes in the warning. “This kind of turn is one featured in a 2013 blog post that is known to be one of the primary causes of collisions between cars and people who bike resulting in serious injury or fatality.”
In other words, instead of merging into the bike lane before turning, per California law, the car crossed in front of the bike lane at the last second, leaving very little time for a cyclist going forward to avoid a collision.
A coalition spokesman says the group warned Uber about the issue as well, and the company told them it was working on it, but didn’t mention that self-driving cars would be launched two days later, sans permit.
“The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted in a surprise launch shows a reckless disregard for the safety of people in our streets,” the spokesman told The Guardian.
Uber says that engineers are “continuing to work on the problem,” and that it has instructed drivers to take over when the car approaches a right turn on a street with a bike lane — the same drivers that Uber blamed last week for a video of tricked-out Uber Volvos apparently running red lights.