Uber has admitted that there is a “problem” with the way autonomous vehicles cross bike lanes, raising serious questions about the safety of cyclists days after the company announced it would openly defy California regulators over self-driving vehicles.
An Uber spokeswoman said on Monday that engineers were working to fix a flaw in the programming that advocates feared could have deadly consequences for cyclists. Uber began piloting its self-driving vehicles in its home town of San Francisco last week, despite state officials’ declaration that the ride-share company needed special permits to test its technology. On day one, numerous autonomous vehicles – which have a driver in the front seat who can take control – were caught running red lights and committing a range of traffic violations.
Despite threats of legal action from the department of motor vehicles (DMV) and California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, Uber refused to back down on Friday, claiming its rejection of government authority was “an important issue of principle”. Concerns are mounting about how the cars behave in dense urban environments, particularly in San Francisco, where there are an estimated 82,000 bike trips each day across more than 200 miles of cycling lanes.
“The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted … shows reckless disregard for safety. Chris Cassidy, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition”
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has released a warning about Uber’s cars based on staff members’ first-hand experiences in the vehicles. When the car was in “self-driving” mode, the coalition’s executive director, who tested the car two days before the launch, observed it twice making an “unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane”. That means the car crossed the bike path at the last minute in a manner that posed a direct threat to cyclists. The maneuver also appears to violate state law, which mandates that a right-turning car merge into the bike lane before making the turn to avoid a crash with a cyclist who is continuing forward. “It’s one of the biggest causes of collisions,” said coalition spokesman Chris Cassidy, noting that the group warned Uber of the problem. Company officials told the coalition that Uber was working on the issue but failed to mention that the self-driving program would begin two days later without permits, he said. “The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted in a surprise launch,” he said, “shows a reckless disregard for the safety of people in our streets.”
Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler told the Guardian in an email that “engineers are continuing to work on the problem”, and said that the company has instructed drivers to take control when approaching right turns on a street with a bike lane. She did not respond to questions about how the cars, Volvo XC90s, detect cyclists and what kind of training and testing the firm conducted before implementation. Image Credit.
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