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December 27 2016

Cali Regulators Drive Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Away

Patrice L. Onwuka

After Uber’s recent head-on collision with California regulators over testing their self-driving cars, Uber has decided to pack up and head across the state border to the technology-friendly state of Arizona.

In a stunning response, Uber refused to abandon its defiant stand against onerous regulations to test their new autonomous cars in California. Instead they are packing up and heading east.

San Francisco, the epicenter of many tech innovations (including being the birthplace of Uber), has had strong regulations that have at times been hostile to the development of technology. With the development of autonomous cars, there’s a new battlefront between regulation and technology.

California revoked the registrations of over a dozen of Uber’s self-driving cars, claiming they weren’t properly issued. Perhaps state regulators assumed that Uber would cave in to their demands. Instead, Uber gathered its fleet of cars on trucks and moved right over to Arizona, where late last week, the state’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey invited Uber to come and have free range:

“Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads. While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses…This is about economic development, but it’s also about changing the way we live and work. Arizona is proud to be open for business. California may not want you, but we do.”

Ducey underscored his commitment to welcoming self-driving technology. Last year, he signed an executive order that supports the testing and operation of self-driving cars in Arizona with “an emphasis on innovation, economic growth, and most importantly, public safety.”

Uber is ecstatic:

"Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck," an Uber spokeswoman said in a written statement. "We'll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks."

Uber maintains that it does not need a special permit from California to test its vehicles, because they aren’t truly autonomous – their cars aren’t advanced enough yet to drive around without a human being behind them.

That may be splitting legal hairs, however, this example highlights the stark contrast in how policymakers are choosing their response to technology development in their borders. Whereas Governor Ducey and his colleagues in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania are working to give companies latitude as they develop and test the technology, California is doing the opposite.

In an effort to get ahead of the development of self-driving vehicles, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles required that any company wishing to develop and test them must get a special permit. So far 20 companies have secured the permits except Uber. They want to control how technology develops by regulating the development process to run through Sacramento.

There’s balance to strike between safety and technology freedom. Penalizing the risk-takers, who are investing in what could be the next major transportation disruption and transformation, with greater bureaucracy and restrictions, will hamper innovation not spur it.

 

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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