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Uber concedes to DMV, says it will apply for self-driving permit in California

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License to drive

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Uber will apply for a permit in California to test its self-driving cars on public roads, after previously butting heads with the state’s DMV over whether the rules applied to the company’s fleet of autonomous Volvo SUVs. Last December, the DMV forced Uber to shut down its self-driving pilot after less than a week in operation because Uber refused to obtain the license.

On March 8, Uber was granted an autonomous vehicle testing permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Uber’s reversal, which was first reported by The Mercury News, represents a rare case of Uber acquiescing to a government regulator. According to emails obtained by The Verge, Uber knew for months that its self-driving cars violated the state’s requirement that autonomous vehicles be licensed before operating on public roads. Yet it still deployed its fleet of autonomous vehicles in December, arguing that because they required a human driver to monitor the vehicle at all times, they did not legally meet the definition of an autonomous vehicle under the state’s law.

Last week, Uber launched a self-driving pilot in Tempe, Arizona, where the state’s governor has welcomed the law-skirting company with open arms. Arizona has less requirements for companies wishing to operate autonomous vehicles within its borders than California.

Uber has not applied for the California permit yet, but both the company and the DMV confirmed that it plans to. Recently, Uber said that its self-driving cars were back on the road in San Francisco, but only to collect mapping data. Uber says that its interpretations of the technology haven’t changed, nor have the regulations.

“These cars are legally registered and are being driven manually,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We are taking steps to complete our application to apply for a DMV testing permit. As we said in December, Uber remains 100 percent committed to California.”

A DMV spokesperson added, “Uber hasn’t formally submitted their autonomous vehicle tester program application, but just as we would with any other manufacturer, the DMV is providing assistance with the steps necessary to apply for and receive a test permit.”

Of course, whether Uber obtains a permit or not is not the most pressing question facing the company’s self-driving operation. Last week, Google’s self-driving subsidiary filed an explosive lawsuit against Uber, alleging that the ride-hailing company had stolen its autonomous technology. Uber said the claims were “baseless.”

Update March 8, 7:55PM: Updated to note that Uber has been granted the permit.