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WATCH: Self-driving Uber runs a red

It’s been said that in 1895, when there were only two cars in the state of Ohio, they crashed into each other.

And while the veracity of this claim has been debated, it’s undeniable that teething problems are par for the course when it comes to new technologies.

In December, a dash cam video posted online showed a self-driving Uber running a red light in San Francisco, on the very day that Uber had launched its pilot program.

On the same day another incident was also reported on Twitter:

An Uber spokesperson told Techcrunch that the incident in the following video was down to “human error”.

Coincidentally, this footage was captured by Charles Rotter, who works for Luxor, a traditional cab company. And we all know how cabbies feel about Uber. In the last few years, thousands of cab drivers from all over the world have protested about it.

The self-driving test vehicles have a human driver behind the wheel and a co-pilot in the front passenger seat collecting data on the rides. It is the responsibility of the humans to take control in the event of any incidents, which they apparently failed to do in this case.

The driver in question was later suspended, and Uber reminded everyone that safety is Number One.

Ron Lior, senior engineer for Uber’s self-driving project, told The Verge that the company was getting into self-driving cars to reduce the number of traffic accidents and fatalities caused by human error.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Motor Vehicles wasn’t too happy about the whole thing. That day, it sent a letter asking Uber to cease its program until it obtains a permit from the agency.

Uber responded in a blogpost, saying that it has looked into the issue carefully, and doesn’t believe that it needs a testing permit to launch self-driving Ubers in San Francisco.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles begged to differ, and revoked the licenses of 16 vehicles. Since then, The Verge reports that Uber has packed up the cars and is moving them to Arizona.

This is not the first time that Uber has locked horns with the law.

One of the key problems has been the issue of driver background checks. In January 2015, a 25-year-old Delhi woman claimed that she was raped by an Uber driver. An Indian court found the man guilty and the woman also filed a lawsuit in the US. Uber settled out of court, but the case prompted global outrage and was a PR nightmare for the ride-sharing company.

The other problem is the business’ legal status. Uber says it isn’t a taxi service, so it exists in the grey area between chauffeur service and tech company. This has led to some serious legal issues, with some countries completely banning Uber, and others restricting its services.

Here in Australia, Uber is currently legal in every state, except for the Northern Territory. And in 2015, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) issued an order for Uber drivers to get Australian Business Numbers and pay GST, as taxi drivers do.

Uber responded by lodging legal action against the ATO, and it looks like Uber lost, since the ATO website currently states that “if you provide ride-sourcing services, you are providing taxi travel services”. Case closed. I guess it’s true what they say: you can’t fight City Hall.

According to ABC News, self-driving cars – Uber or not – are coming to Australia.

Last year, driverless cars were trialled in Adelaide, and as far as we know, they didn’t run any reds.

Gerard Waldron, the managing director of an independent road research agency told ABC that self-driving cars will be widely used here by 2035 at the latest. He also said that Uber could be offering driverless services in Australia within five to ten years.

We’ll see how that goes. If the case with the ATO and California DMV is any indication, it won’t be too easy for Uber to pull it off.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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