The ride-hail company says its cars aren’t autonomous.

Uber says it will not go through the California permitting process for autonomous vehicles, and will continue to operate its self-driving tests for customers in San Francisco, despite demands yesterday from the state Department of Motor Vehicles that the ride-hail company stop immediately.

Uber launched its self-driving-car pilot in San Francisco on Wednesday.

According to Uber, its self-driving Volvos fall short of the DMV’s classification of an autonomous vehicle, since they don’t work without a person behind the wheel. In California, an autonomous vehicle is defined as having the capability of driving “without the active physical control or monitoring” of a person.

California does allow for the driving and testing of autonomous vehicles on public roadways, but requires the operator to obtain a $150 permit to drive in the state.

Tesla’s Autopilot feature did not require an autonomous vehicle permit, since it is “just helping drivers make better decisions,” a DMV spokeswoman said last year.

Anthony Levandowski, the head of Uber’s self-driving-car program, said the company feels that its cars are at the same level of autonomy as Tesla’s, and therefore don’t require a permit, either.

Uber first launched a self-driving car program in Pittsburgh in September, but Pittsburgh doesn’t have a permit process for autonomous cars like San Francisco does.

Other states don’t have the same permit requirements, and Uber could have certainly picked another state for its second test.

“We could also test it on the dark side of the moon,” said Levandowski, “but it’s most relevant to test it in a place that has the most impact on our lives. It’s not about picking a fight. It’s about doing the right thing, and we believe that bringing this tech to California is the right thing to do.”

Uber has been using its self-driving cars in San Francisco for months, but only formally started picking up passengers on Wednesday, and that’s when the DMV decided to crack down.

A statement from the California DMV yesterday said that if Uber doesn’t stop operating its self-driving cars immediately, the DMV will “initiate legal action.”

Yesterday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also demanded that Uber end its self-driving pilot.

“The Mayor expects Uber to do what is required by law and obtain a permit from the DMV, just like every other company testing autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. This is not just a matter of following the law, it’s a matter of public safety,” said Lee in a statement, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

On Wednesday, a taxi driver filmed one of Uber’s self-driving cars running a red light in San Francisco, which a spokesperson from Uber said was a result of “human error” and not the fault of the car’s self-driving system. The DMV demanded Uber stop its self-driving car program earlier in the day, before the red-light incident.

Here’s a letter Uber received from the California DMV today:

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Author: April Glaser

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