A Warning to People Who Bike: Self-Driving Ubers and 'Right-Hook' Turns

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 (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition)

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on the SF Bike Coalition blog.

Before the surprise launch of Uber’s autonomous vehicles on San Francisco streets this week, I rode in one. I can tell you firsthand: Those vehicles are not yet ready for our streets.

I was at one of the demonstrations covered in the San Francisco Examiner, along with others who Uber hoped to impress with their new technology. None of us were told that just two days later, Uber would be releasing this technology on our streets on a large scale. I did tell Uber some things about the shortcomings of that technology, however.

In the ride I took through the streets of SoMa on Monday, the autonomous vehicle in “self-driving” mode, as well as the one in front of it, took an unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane. Twice. This kind of turn is one featured in a 2013 blog post that is known to be one of the primary causes of collisions between cars and people who bike, resulting in serious injury or fatality. It’s also an unsafe practice that we address in all of the safety curriculum we offer to professional drivers, including the videos we consulted on for Uber as recently as this fall.

I told staff from Uber’s policy and engineering teams about the safety hazards of their autonomous vehicle technology. They told me they would work on it. Then, two days later, they unleashed that technology on San Francisco’s streets. Your streets.

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Since Wednesday, we have been told that “safety drivers” in these vehicles have been instructed to disengage from self-driving mode when approaching right turns on a street with a bike lane and that engineers are continuing to work on the problem. In the meantime, Uber is continuing to operate autonomous vehicles for passenger service in San Francisco.

There’s no other way to put it: Launching autonomous vehicle technology before it’s regulated and safe for our streets is unacceptable.