The idea of self-driving cars is still a fairly new one, and governments all over are scrambling to both understand and regulate their existence. California, one of the earliest states to accept them as an inevitability, is one of the states having the hardest time creating their regulations and apply them evenly and fairly. For example, are driver-supported vehicles, like Tesla, the same as vehicles that have no human onboard, and if not, should they be treated differently?
In California, a fully-autonomous vehicle, like the ones being tested by companies like Google and Audi, require a special license to be operated on public roads. Vehicles like Tesla, which require a human to sit in the driver's seat while the vehicle operates itself, do not require any special license. That is, in theory, at least.
Uber began testing autonomous vehicles in California similar to those developed by Tesla. While Uber believes that their new vehicles belong in the same category as Tesla, the state of California disagrees. In fact, the state's DMV is demanding that Uber acquire a license to operate these vehicles on public roads. Uber believes that, if Tesla owners do not require a special license, Uber should not, either.
There are a couple of important pieces of information to consider here. First, Uber feels that they are better than others in their market. They don't want to be considered, and especially regulated like, a taxi service. They spend a lot of time and money fighting the possibility in cities, states and countries around the world. Often, especially in cities that have a thriving taxi economy, they fail despite spending the money.
This fight against the world is all because they consider themselves to be different from a taxi service, and instead a "ride sharing" service, which they are not. If they were, the driver and passenger would be splitting the cost of gas instead of one paying a 3rd party a pre-determined amount to be taken where they are going.
Second, Tesla drivers are private citizens, driving themselves and accepting the risk of the ride in a special vehicle for themselves and not others. In the case of Uber, the people getting into the vehicles are paying customers of a taxi/limousine service who, if accepting the risk of a ride in a unique vehicle, are doing so from a professional driver, whom they assume to be treated as such.
According to a letter sent to Uber on Friday, the state will be seeking "injunctive and other appropriate relief" with the intention of stopping the unlicensed program. Considering the state has 20 other companies that have already received the licensing, it seems like any legal relief will be easily granted. The letter was signed by the Supervising Deputy Attorney Generals Miguel A. Neri and Fiel D. Tigno, which lends the full weight of the state behind the effort. For Uber, continuing to fight this order will, inevitably cost far more than licensing the vehicles in the first place.
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