Uber’s self-driving cars made their first appearance on the streets of San Francisco since the company scaled back its autonomous testing program in the wake of a fatal crash in Arizona. The California DMV reinstated Uber’s permit to test self-driving vehicles on public roads last month. But the company says it will take a cautious approach and only operate two vehicles with safety drivers during daylight hours.
The testing will resume on March 10th and is set to last only a few weeks, a spokesperson said. Uber’s autonomous vehicles, Volvo XC90 SUVs retrofitted with the company’s self-driving hardware and software, will not pick up any passengers.
Uber’s self-driving cars are also on the road in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Washington, DC, and Toronto. But San Francisco is the only other city besides Pittsburgh where Uber’s cars will operate in autonomous mode.
“We are excited to resume autonomous testing in Uber’s home city this week,” a spokesperson said. “Our testing area will be limited in scope to start, but we look forward to scaling up our efforts in the months ahead and learning from the difficult but informative road conditions that the Bay Area has to offer.”
It’s quite the turnabout from Uber’s first attempt to test its self-driving cars in the city back in 2017. The DMV forced Uber to shut down its self-driving pilot after less than a week in operation because the company refused to obtain the license.
Uber has been approaching its self-driving tests with an abundance of caution since a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, involving one of its autonomous vehicles in March 2018. The vehicle, which only had one safety driver behind the wheel, struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg while she was walking her bike across the street.
Police later said the safety driver wasn’t watching the road but was instead streaming The Voice on her phone at the time of the crash. After a lengthy investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board split the blame between Uber, the safety driver, the victim, and the state of Arizona in a blistering official report that also took the federal government to task for failing to properly regulate the industry. The company was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by local authorities. Uber settled a lawsuit with Herzberg’s family for an undisclosed sum.
Testing officially resumed nine months after the crash, with the company’s Volvo SUVs operating in a closed loop in downtown Pittsburgh, where Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group is headquartered. The company recently unveiled its third-generation vehicle, which it plans to start testing this year.