Pony.ai loses permit to test autonomous vehicles with driver in California

The California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked Pony.ai’s permit to test its autonomous vehicle technology with a driver on Tuesday for failing to monitor the driving records of the safety drivers on its testing permit.

“While reviewing Pony.ai’s application to renew the testing permit, the DMV found numerous violations on the driving records of active Pony.ai safety drivers,” a spokesperson for the DMV told TechCrunch, noting that Pony had 41 autonomous test vehicles and 71 safety drivers on its permit.

Pony confirmed the revocation of its permit to TechCrunch, saying the DMV took issue with the driving records of three of its safety operators.

“Because of the critical role of safety drivers to facilitate the safe testing of autonomous technology and the need for these drivers to have a clean driving record as established by the DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations, the DMV is revoking the permit, effective immediately.”

The news follows the suspension of Pony’s driverless permit, which allows it to test its AV tech without a human safety operator in the front seat, in November 2021 after a reported collision in Fremont, California. At the time, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration suspected a software default, so in March, Pony recalled three vehicles with similar potential software issues.

The California DMV did not respond in time to requests for more information about the status of Pony’s suspended driverless testing permit, but if the arguably safer version of that permit — the one that requires a driver to be present while testing — has been fully revoked, it’s unlikely the DMV will reinstate the startup’s driverless permit any time soon.

“When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits,” the agency told TechCrunch.

Pony responded to TechCrunch on Wednesday, saying it is proud of its safety record, and that in the over 6.8 million real-world autonomous miles, no injuries have occurred.

“We are in the process of reviewing the DMV’s notice,” a spokesperson for Pony told TechCrunch.

Pony currently does not hold any active testing permits in California.

Meanwhile, in China, where most of Pony’s operations reside, the company just received a permit to provide driverless ride-hailing services to the public on open roads in Beijing. The company also recently scored a taxi license to operate a commercial service in Guangzhou.

This article has been updated to reflect Pony’s statement, as well as information regarding the number of safety operators with questionable driving records.