"We respectfully disagree with the California Department of Motor Vehicles legal interpretation" regarding autonomous vehicles, Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber's advanced technology group, said in a statement.
Uber's defiance prompted the California Attorney General to announce plans to pursue an injunction and other legal relief, TechCrunch reports, reinforcing the DMV's earlier order to Uber to halt its program. Uber could face legal penalties if it continues with its plans in California.
At the crux of the dispute: does Uber need a permit to run its self-driving taxis on San Francisco streets? Uber argues it does not since its vehicles are not capable of operating without "active physical control or monitoring," which Levandowski says is in line with state laws.
The executive compared the technology used by Uber's test fleet to Tesla's Autopilot system – which has drawn its own share of controversy for accidents – and other driver-assist systems offered by other automakers. "This type of technology is commonplace on thousands of cars driving in the Bay Area today, without any DMV permit at all," he said.
Uber also points to its tests in Pittsburgh as evidence the technology is safe and doesn't need permitting. No reported incidents have occurred in Pittsburgh, but the San Francisco test saw an XC90 run a red light and nearly hit someone standing by a crosswalk, video shows, prompting action from California authorities.
Bryan Walker Smith, an affiliate scholar with the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, argues in a recent post that Uber is breaking the law and needs a permit to adhere to California policy.
"The line between testing and deployment is blurry – and will only become more so as over-the-air updates and pilot projects become more common. Nonetheless, Uber's activities are comfortably [or, for Uber, uncomfortably] on the side of testing."