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SFPD traffic division unaware of self-driving Uber fleet on city streets

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It remains unclear how SFPD will enforce traffic safety laws with self-driving Uber vehicles that debuted in San Francisco’s streets Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)
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With Uber’s self-driving cars now on the streets of San Francisco, the enforcement of traffic violations is in the hands of The City’s Police Traffic Company, which was unaware Wednesday morning that the vehicles began roaming city streets that day.

Meanwhile, some are demanding San Francisco police impound the self-driving fleet for allegedly failing to operate without a permit.

SEE RELATED: Video appears to show Uber self-driving car running red light in SF

San Francisco Police Traffic Company Sgt. Will Murray said he was unaware Uber’s cars were already on the streets, as well as of video and a photo appearing to show two self-driving vehicles running a red light Wednesday morning in San Francisco in separate incidents.

“I was unaware the cars have been released in the wild,” said Murray. “Isn’t that like the headless horsemen?”

SEE RELATED: 45,000 Uber and Lyft drivers may now operate in SF

The self-driving vehicles also have Uber drivers and engineers as backups at the wheel of the car, according to various news reports, leaving it unclear as to why no one simply hit the brakes.

The Traffic Company’s enforcement procedures are governed by the California vehicle code, said Murray, which allows self-driving cars on the roads as long as they are accompanied by passengers with the ability to take over the vehicle in the case of malfunctions.

SEE RELATED: SF blasts Uber, Lyft for downtown traffic congestion

“They are required to have someone seated in the front driver’s portion of the vehicle,” said Murray, who added that, “If they were committing flagrant violations, if they were not obeying the laws” then traffic officers will pull them over and ticket them.

He did not say if that had yet occurred or how one goes about ticketing a car driven by a computer.

“First comes the technology then usually comes the policy,” said SFPD spokesperson Officer Giselle Talkoff, who added that the passenger will be cited if a traffic violation occurs involving driverless cars.

On Wednesday, Consumer Watchdog called on San Francisco police to impound self-driving vehicles that operate without a permit on city streets, and requested City Attorney Dennis Herrera to file criminal charges against Uber’s CEO.

California Motor Vehicle Code reportedly requires a permit for testing autonomous vehicles in the state.

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