Stephen Ellison

SF Bike Coalition Decries Uber's Use of Self-Driving Cars

Group says vehicles consistently make extra-wide right turns, creating a hazard for cyclists

As the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition handed out free bike lights Tuesday, it also shined a light on a what it says is a dangerous flaw in Uber's self-driving cars.

The coalition's Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier says the self-driving cars, which began service in the city last week, take right-hand turns too wide, leaving lots of room for a bicyclist to get hit. He says right now the service isn't ready for the road.

"I think the responsible thing to do when a technology like this is released on our city streets is to get it right," Wiedenmeier said.

California transportation officials have demanded that Uber stop picking up passengers in a handful of Volvo SUVs tricked out with a suite of sensors that let the cars steer, brake and accelerate. But an Uber executive rebuffed the state's "legal interpretation of today’s autonomous regulations."

Wiedenmeier took a demo ride in one of the autonomous cars and said the vehicle didn't follow the law when turning right. He shared his concern with Uber and wasn't satisfied with the response.

"We've been told by Uber that drivers have been told to disengage self-driving mode when vehicles come to this type of turn," he said. "But the technology has not been fixed."

The coalition is circulating a petition asking Uber to curb the service until the glitch is repaired.

In a statement, Uber said, "We can detect people on bicycles. We're working on a software fix for right hooks, which has already been fixed operationally, meaning that all of our vehicles' operators have been instructed to take over our vehicles when they're making these turns."

Cyclists are hoping for more.

"It would be nice if they stopped it until it was perfect," one cyclist said. "I'd love that."

In the meantime, the bicycle coalition said it plans to send the Department of Motor Vehicles a letter urging regulation for Uber's self-driving cars.

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