Uber’s Self-Driving Trucks Might Be Violating California Law

It seems like Uber got into trouble with California Department of Motor Vehicles once again. Except, this time it’s Uber’s self-driving trucks.

Uber has been testing its self-driving trucks on California roads since January 2016. Now, Consumer Watchdog accuses the company of violating state laws.

It’s not the first time the California non-profit organization raises concerns about the safety of Uber’s vehicles. So, they asked the DMV to take a closer look at operations at Otto, a self-driving truck company acquired by Uber for $670 million last year.

John Simpson, the director of Consumer Watchdog, wrote a letter to the California DMV asking the agency to revoke the registration of Uber’s self-driving trucks, which the company is testing on public roads.

What Are the Violations?

Simpson argues that the company is guilty of two violations. First, they did not acquire the necessary permission for testing self-driving technology in California. Second, the trucks weight more than 10,000 pounds, which is against the current regulations on testing autonomous vehicles.

The DMV affirmed that vehicles that exceed the limit should not operate autonomously on the highways. California laws regarding autonomous vehicle testing are in place since September 2014 and make it clear that it is illegal to test vehicles which weight over 10,000 pounds. “If a company is caught testing, they could be cited by law enforcement and their vehicle registrations could be revoked.” a DMV spokesman told Recode.

Car and Driver obtained documents via public records which support the allegations. The documents refer to the truck technology as “self-driving system” which in turn operates in “self-driving mode.” Also according to the documents, the trucks are testing on San Francisco roads “on a daily basis.” Simpson believes that the document clearly demonstrates the violations.

In fact, a recent promotional video shows Otto trucks on public roads without a driver. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the shooting took place in California. A video featured an Otto truck delivering 45,000 cans of beer in Colorado.

How Did Otto Respond?

Otto responded to allegations saying that the trucks were not in autonomous mode while in California. Uber added that its Otto trucks were only operating lane-keeping assist technology and adaptive cruise control.

Nevertheless, Consumer Watchdog insists for DMV to take Uber’s vehicles off California highways. In the letter, Simpson also asked the DMV to revoke Uber’s semi-autonomous Volvos.

“Rules need to be followed and Uber and Otto are thumbing their noses at following sensible regulations,” Simpson told “We would rather see testing of these vehicles done safely and not receive complaints after something terrible has happened.”

It’s not the first time that Uber tried to pull off such an illegal scenario. Two months ago Uber got into trouble for not obtaining a permit to test its self-driving cars in San Francisco.  Back then, DMV revoked the cars’ registration. The company tried to defend itself by saying that it was only gathering data and doing mapping and not operating in self-driving mode. However, after the accusations, instead of complying with the law, Uber just moved to Arizona.

It’s also not the first violation for Otto. They tried to pull the same trick and ran self-driving vehicle tests outside Las Vegas failing to register with state regulations.

Summing Up

Consumer Watchdog seems determined to pursue this issue till the end. “This is the same thing as driving without a license, and the enforcement folks should be pursuing this with vigor. I think someone should be in jail,” said Simpson.

The DMV claimed that Otto assured them that the trucks were not capable of operating in autonomous mode. However now, the company says that they will be “looking into” this issue. Meanwhile, Otto insists that they do not need a license as it claims its vehicles to be “driver-assist” and not “self-driving” while the documents point at the opposite.


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