What could possibly be better than “hiring” a global team of contractors to drive passengers for your company while not actually paying them as your employees? Getting rid of them altogether. At least, that seems to be the ideal now that Uber has launched its self-driving car project. Think of how much money the company can make by not only paying retirement benefits, offering health insurance, and contributing employment taxes, now they won’t even have to share a cut of the fare with the driver.
But those plans are on hold following a correspondence from the California Division of Motor Vehicles’ attorneys. The letter, sent to Uber’s head of its self-driving program, informs the company that they are to stop testing their vehicles and file for a testing permit immediately, or face an injunction from the state.
Since Uber had announced it was rolling out its fleet of self-driving cars on Wednesday, it’s no coincidence that the letter was dated the same day. It’s just sheer luck that a dashcam video from a Luxor cab was uploaded to YouTube, showing an Uber self-driving car running a red light and nearly taking out a pedestrian. Uber’s oh-so-casual response to the video was to defend the car’s technology; apparently, the human driver was not only in the vehicle at the time, he was the one driving (not the automated software). So it’s not the car that’s to blame, but the careless human behind the wheel. That doesn’t explain the eyewitness account submitted on Twitter of a separate Uber self-driving car running a different red light earlier Wednesday morning, though.
San Francisco, site of the red light incident, is not the only city where Uber is testing this fleet. Of course, at least for now, Uber users who opt for a self-driving ride will still have a human driver behind the wheel to take over in emergencies. Unfortunately, without filing for the testing permit in places that even offer them, Uber does not have to report incidents such as running a red light, taking over the vehicle due to system failure, or even crashes.