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Strong source work nets APNewsBreak in self-driving car showdown between Uber and Calif. officials

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Los Angeles reporter Justin Pritchard has made the fledgling “autonomous vehicle” industry a sub-beat and has developed sourcing that has produced a number of significant beats for AP. When he heard Uber would begin picking up San Francisco passengers in its self-driving cars, he saw a confrontation brewing with California regulators and the opportunity for another scoop.

Uber had decided not to abide by a requirement to get a permit before starting its service in its hometown. Uber’s aggressive approach in San Francisco crashed a delicately crafted regulatory truce _ the 20 other companies testing prototypes on public roads applied for the permit before hitting the streets, and agreed to report crashes and other safety metrics.

Pritchard knew Levandowski would not back down and that state transportation regulators would have to respond. He set about securing the scoop and within hours of Uber starting the service, he got it.

The cars Uber was bringing to San Francisco seemed just the kind that would need a permit, but the leader of Uber’s self-driving program ­_ Anthony Levandowski _told Pritchard in an interview the day before the launch that they didn’t. He argued that because a person was behind the wheel to monitor the car, it was not advanced enough to need a permit.

Pritchard knew Levandowski would not back down and that state transportation regulators would have to respond. He set about securing the scoop and within hours of Uber starting the service, he got it.

The California DMV crafted a letter telling Uber to immediately get a permit or stop service. If it did neither, it would face legal consequences. Knowing Pritchard’s coverage to be fair and accurate, the agency agreed to email him the letter before sending it to other reporters.

That gave Pritchard at least a half-hour jump on competitors. The APNewsAlert and APNewsBreak moved as six other reporters started a call with the DMV’s top attorney; some started dropping off the line as they realized that they had to file after being scooped.

AP was credited for the scoop in numerous places in and out of California, from tech blogs to mainstream media sites. http://bit.ly/2h9bmTN Later in the week, Pritchard was first to report that the state attorney general was getting involved and promising to haul Uber to court if the company did not stop service in San Francisco.

Pritchard also was able to get technology writer Michael Liedtke and San Francisco photographer Eric Risberg into an Uber car for a test ride just ahead of the start of service. Liedtke’s first-person reporting showed how the cars were far from perfect and @APWestRegion used Risberg’s video in a promotional tweet.

For again putting AP ahead, Pritchard wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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