Uber has admitted that there is a “problem” with the way its autonomous vehicles cross bike lanes. The firm began testing the cars on public roads just two days after a cycling campaigner had pointed the issue out to them, informing him that engineers would work on the problem.
San Francisco cycling campaigner Brian Wiedenmeier attended a demonstration of Uber’s autonomous vehicle last week and says he twice saw it make an “unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane.”
California state law is that a right-turning car should merge into the bike lane before making the turn to avoid cutting across the path of a cyclist who is continuing straight on.
Writing on the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition website, Wiedenmeier said: “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.”
Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler told the Guardian that, “engineers are continuing to work on the problem”, and said that the company had instructed drivers to take control when approaching right turns on streets with bike lanes.
Coalition spokesman Chris Cassidy said: “The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted in a surprise launch shows a reckless disregard for the safety of people in our streets.”
Wiedenmeier says that launching autonomous vehicle technology before it’s regulated and safe is unacceptable and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has therefore launched petition to tell Uber to address the issue immediately.
Jeffrey Tumlin, director of Oakland’s department of transportation said that bike lanes presented a unique challenge for driverless technology due to the speed and manoeuvrability of cyclists. “It can be more difficult to predict their behaviour,” he said, adding: “I get uncomfortable with private industry doing their experimentation in the public right of way without first collaborating with the public.”
One of Uber's self-driving vehicles was recently caught on a dashcam driving through a red light. California's attorney general reacted by instructing the firm to acquire a test permit for its vehicles, cease autonomous driving immediately, or face consequences.
Uber's vice-president of Advanced Technologies, Anthony Levandowski, reacted by saying that Uber could not "in good conscience" comply with regulations that it doesn't believe applies to itself. "You don't need a belt and suspenders if you're wearing a dress," he commented, somewhat bizarrely.
John Simpson, privacy project director for non-profit consumer organisation Consumer Watchdog, has since said: "We believe their activity is a criminal offence under the Motor Vehicle Code, punishable with up to six months in jail."