Uber’s Un-permitted Self-driving Cars a Danger to Bicycles

Uber-in-Bike-Lane-Twitter-12-20-2016 (@uberinabikelane / Twitter)
@uberinabikelane / Twitter

Uber has acknowledged its self-driving cars are a danger to bicycles — even as the company battles San Francisco and the California Department of Motor Vehicles over operating the vehicles in the city without a permit.

Breitbart News reported that Uber Technologies, Inc. after losing labor court disputes and failing to obttain the patent protection for its ride-hailing app, launched a full commercial “autonomous” (self-driving) ride-sharing service in California without permission from the City of San Francisco or qualifying for a permit from the California DMV.

The DMV vehemently disagrees, and general counsel Brian Soublet wrote a cease-and-desist letter to Uber threatening legal action, Uber called the disagreement a “debate,” and claimed that that it openly defies California regulators and state Attorney General Kamala Harris, because it supposedly will have stand-by drivers “behind the wheel” to make the vehicles “less than fully autonomous.”

But an unforeseen risk also appears to be the 200 miles of bike lanes and 82,000 cyclists’ trips per day in San Francisco that are confounding Uber’s sensors and the software algorithms that control the autonomous vehicles.

Breitbart reported that the first time anyone noticed that Uber was piloting a self-driving ride-hailing service in San Francisco was on December 14, when social media “blew-up” after a dashboard video from a Luxor Cab captured an Uber self-driving Volvo running the light in front of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Local have advocates noted that Uber self-driving cars have been caught performing four out of the five top driving errors that cause collisions or injuries in the city – running red lights, going through stop signs, making unsafe turns, and failing to yield to pedestrians.

The politically connected “San Francisco Bicycle Coalition” just released a warning that its staff members had been given private test rides in Uber autonomous vehicles before the San Francisco launch. The coalition’s director warned members that he personally had observed Uber cars twice making an “unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane”.

Uber cars crossing a bike path not only represent a deadly risk to cyclists, but violate California law that mandates that a right-turning car merging into the bike lane before making the turn must yield the right-of-way to the bicycle.

U.S. pedacyclists (bicycles) suffered 724 deaths and 312,857 injuries in 2014, according to the National Highway Safety Administration’s most recent annual data. California accounted for 128 pedacyclist deaths, with cars being the most likely contributing factor.

Coalition spokesman Chris Cassidy told the Guardian that cars turning into bike lanes was “one of the biggest causes of collisions.” He said that the group warned Uber about the risk and company officials reassured the group that Uber was working on the issue, he said.

Cassidy stated: “The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted in a surprise launch … shows reckless disregard for safety.”

Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler e-mailed the Guardian that Uber “engineers are continuing to work on the problem,” and the stand-by drivers have been instructed to take control of the wheel when approaching right turns on a street with a bike lane. But she did not reply to questions about how Uber autonomous cars can avoid cyclists, and what testing the firm had conducted before launching a commercial self-driving service in San Francisco.


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