Uber's self-driving cars will keep ferrying passengers around San Francisco, the ride-hailing company said Friday—a few hours before state prosecutors threatened to haul Uber before a judge if the service is not suspended immediately. In a sharply worded letter, attorneys with the California's Department of Justice demanded that Uber get a special state permit if it wants to continue. If not, "the attorney general will seek injunctive and other appropriate relief," according to the letter. Though there was no deadline in the letter, a spokeswoman for California transportation regulator tells the AP that the state will take action "early next week" if Uber doesn't comply. Uber began the pilot project Wednesday with a few self-driving Volvo SUVs. A person sits behind the wheel, just in case.
State lawyers insist that Uber's cars are "autonomous vehicles" which need the permit to ply public roads. Anthony Levandowski, leader of the company's self-driving program, disagrees, arguing Uber does not require the permit because the Volvos have backup drivers behind the wheel monitoring the cars. That means the Volvos are not "autonomous vehicles" under the state's definition, he says. San Francisco's mayor has sided with the state. And a consumer advocacy group suggested that the state should do more than force Uber to stop. "We believe their activity is a criminal offense under the motor vehicle code, punishable with up to six months in jail," says John Simpson of the group Consumer Watchdog. (Uber blamed the human for an incident on the day it launched the self-driving program in San Francisco.)