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Self-driving Ubers must cease operation

The firm is defying calls from the San Francisco Department of Motor Vehicles to halt operation of the vehicles

Online taxi service, Uber, is defying calls to cease the operation of its fleet of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco despite claims from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that the cars are using the road illegally.

Following harsh criticism last week after one of Uber's self-driving vehicles was caught on dashcam driving through a red light, California's attorney general says that Uber must acquire a test permit for the vehicles, cease the autonomous driving immediately, or face consequences. 

The nature of those consequences were not specified by the attorney general's spokesperson.

The test permits Uber is being asked to acquire aren't expensive. Each permit, which allows companies to test 10 vehicles, costs $150. Additional vehicles can be added to the permit for only $50 for 10.

>Read more: Self-driving Uber runs a red light in San Francisco

However, Uber's vice-president of Advanced Technologies, Anthony Levandowski, made it very clear in a series of statements to reporters in a conference call on Friday that the company doesn't need test permits.

"[The permitting process] doesn't apply to us," Levandowski told reporters via a conference call on Friday. "You don't need a belt and suspenders if you're wearing a dress." 

The biggest question that Levandowski had lay in the differentiation between the technology the self-driving Ubers are employing and the Autopilot partially autonomous self-driving technology being employed by commercially available Teslas; both of which require a driver to be present. Uber has allegedly asked the DMV to clarify this but says it hasn’t received an answer.

Somewhat facetiously, Levandowski later stipulated that perhaps the difference is that the autonomous Ubers can "make sharp turns."

>Read more: Tesla driver killed in Autopilot crash was watching Harry Potter

The VP went on to clarify that the company cannot "in good conscience" comply with regulations that it doesn't believes applies to itself.

This is no small matter, though. Privacy project director for Consumer Watchdog, John Simpson, says that Uber's position is outrageously irresponsible. He said: "We believe their activity is a criminal offense under the Motor Vehicle Code, punishable with up to six months in jail."

While Levandowski's defense that Tesla vehicles don't require a permit, and therefore the requirement shouldn't apply to Uber, several other firms that have been testing autonomous vehicle technology in San Francisco have applied for and obtained these permits; such as Google, Ford, Nvidia, and Tesla themselves.

This isn't Uber picking a fight, Levandowski said, but rather the company taking a stand. The VP says that the technology is "commonplace in thousands of cars in San Francisco.

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