Otto has been testing its self-driving trucks on the highways surrounding San Francisco “on a daily basis,” according to company documents detailing its testing operations and obtained by the magazine. The company details numerous “disengages,” or times when a human driver was forced to take control from the vehicle. But Otto hasn’t signed up for California’s autonomous testing program, which requires companies to purchase a $150 permit and file annual reports about the number miles driven and disengagements. This data is widely seen in the industry as a benchmark for effectiveness in self-driving technology.
Otto previously assured California regulators that its trucks weren’t capable of operating in autonomous mode on public roads, a spokesperson for the state’s DMV told The Verge. But since the publication of this document, which Car and Driver obtained from a public records request in Colorado, the DMV says it is now reviewing whether Otto ran afoul of California law. (Last October, Otto conducted a high-profile delivery of Budweiser beer using one of its self-driving trucks in Colorado.)
“Otto met with the DMV and [the California Highway Patrol] and indicated that their trucks are not capable of operating in autonomous mode in California,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Since then, the Department received a copy of the Colorado document and is looking into that issue.”
If this all sounds a little familiar it’s because last December, Uber was forced to yank its self-driving Volvo SUVs from the road in San Francisco after only a week in operation. The ride-hail company refused to obtain a permit for autonomous testing from the DMV, leading the agency to revoke Uber’s vehicle registration. Uber argued it shouldn’t have to sign up because its vehicles were incapable of being operated without human drivers, but many saw the refusal as evidence that Uber was being cagey about publicly disclosing its disengagement data.
Otto claims it does not need to obtain a permit because it only tests driver assist technologies, not fully autonomous ones. But that contradicts the language in the document, which describes its testing of a “self-driving system” around San Francisco.
This isn’t the first time that Otto has skirted the law. The company ticked off officials in Nevada by basically pulling the same stunt: running self-driving road tests outside Las Vegas without registering its vehicles with state regulators.