Statement from Anthony Levandowski on Self-Driving in San Francisco

Thank you all for joining our call today. Let me start by saying that we value our relationship with elected officials and regulators both in San Francisco and Sacramento. We also understand the need to regulate Uber’s services, and have consistently supported progressive, common sense regulations for both ridesharing and self-driving technology across the United States.

But we respectfully disagree with the California Department of Motor Vehicles legal interpretation of today’s autonomous regulations, in particular that Uber needs a testing permit to operate its self-driving cars in San Francisco. Let me explain why.

The regulations apply to “autonomous vehicles”. And autonomous vehicles are defined as cars equipped with technology that can — and I quote — “drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.” But the self-driving Ubers that we have in both San Francisco and Pittsburgh today are not capable of driving “without … active physical control or monitoring”.  

From a technology perspective, self-driving Ubers operate in the same way as vehicles equipped with advanced driver assist technologies, for example Tesla auto-pilot and other OEM’s traffic jam assist. This type of technology is commonplace on thousands of cars driving in the Bay Area today, without any DMV permit at all. That is because California law expressly excludes from its law vehicles that have “collision avoidance” or “other similar systems that enhance safety or provide driver assistance” and, like our self-driving cars, are “not capable, collectively or singularly, of driving the vehicle without the active control or monitoring of a human operator.”

It’s hard to understand why the DMV would seek to require self-driving Ubers to get permits when it accepts that Tesla’s autopilot technology does not need them. We asked for clarification as to specifically what is different about our tech from the DMV, but have not received it.

Nor is it clear why the DMV is requiring that we apply for a permit now, when they’ve known that self-driving Ubers have been on the streets of San Francisco over a month? We have been safely driving self-driving Ubers in the same manner in Pittsburgh for months, where policymakers and regulators are supportive of our efforts.

As you would expect we have had a number of frank conversations with the DMV and other regulators in California, including in-person demonstrations, to explain our technology and our cars’ very real limitations. In particular that while these are considered state of the art today, they still require monitoring by a vehicle operator at all times. And because highly trained vehicle operators are monitoring these vehicles, we believe they are no different than any other car on the road today.

Ever since leaving UC Berkeley my life’s ambition has been to make safe self-driving cars a reality. This technology has the potential to dramatically improve society: reducing the number of traffic accidents, which today kill 1.3 million people a year; freeing up the 20 percent of space in cities currently used to park the world’s billion plus cars; and cutting congestion, which wastes trillions of hours every year.  

Safety is of course our top priority as we bring this new technology to cities across America. It’s why we only launched in Pittsburgh and San Francisco after extensive testing, including in our research and development lab as well as on private roads. But real world testing on public roads is essential both to gain public trust and improve the technology over time.

The distinction between our self-driving Ubers and the autonomous vehicles described by California State law is not a legal nicety. Nor are we seeking to exploit some loophole in the law. It’s an important issue of principle about when companies can operate self-driving cars on the roads and the uneven application of statewide rules across very similar types of technology.

California is our home state. Its track record on innovation is second to none. And we consider ourselves lucky to have benefited from the progressive approach California’s legislature and regulators have taken to new, often disruptive, technologies. However, we cannot in good conscience sign up for regulation for something we are not doing.

Thank you.

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