Uber’s self-driving cars are making ‘dangerous’ turns across bike lanes

Uber self-driving Volvo XC90
San Francisco cyclists might want to watch themselves if a self-driving Uber is in the vicinity.

According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the autonomous cars have been seen performing dangerous maneuvers across bike lanes that could result in an accident.

An Uber spokesperson this week confirmed to the Guardian that “engineers are continuing to work on the problem,” adding that on-board technicians have been told to take control of the vehicle when approaching a right turn on a road with a bike lane.

Whether that’s enough to calm the nerves of cyclists in the city remains to be seen, though Brian Wiedenmeier, executive chairman of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, is clearly still concerned.

In a recent blog post, Wiedenmeier said he took a ride in one of Uber’s test vehicles in a demonstration of the car’s technology shortly before its San Francisco launch. He said that on two occasions the car “took an unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane.” He added that such a turn, which he described as “dangerous and illegal,”  is known to be “one of the primary causes of collisions between cars and people who bike resulting in serious injury or fatality.”

Wiedenmeier continued: “I told staff from Uber’s policy and engineering teams about the safety hazards of their autonomous vehicle technology. They told me they would work on it. Then, two days later, they unleashed that technology on San Francisco’s streets. Your streets … Launching autonomous vehicle technology before it’s regulated and safe for our streets is unacceptable.”

Of course, many San Francisco road users may well be wondering why Uber is continuing to test its autonomous cars on streets there at all. Why? Because California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) insists the ride-hailing company needs a permit to do so. But Uber disagrees.

When the DMV pointed out last week that it needed special permission, Uber said this wasn’t the case because an on-board technician was constantly monitoring the car’s behavior, ready to intervene if necessary.

The DMV is now threatening legal action, while Mayor Ed Lee is calling on the ride-hailing company to “stop the unpermitted and unlawful testing of autonomous vehicles.”

But Uber is standing by its belief that a permit isn’t required for testing so long as it has a technician behind the wheel at all times.

“We respectfully disagree with the California DMV’s legal interpretation of today’s automation regulations,” Uber’s Anthony Levandowski said last Friday.

The issue appears \ far from resolved, with Uber set to continue testing its Volvo XC90s in the face of DMV protests.

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