California suspends Cruise driverless taxi test after accident

California suspends Cruise driverless taxi test after accident

Autonomous carmaker Cruise must suspend its driverless taxi operations in California immediately, state motor vehicles regulators announced on Tuesday.

"The California DMV today notified Cruise that the department is suspending Cruise’s autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing permits, effective immediately,” the state Department of Motor Vehicles said in a statement.

“The DMV has provided Cruise with the steps need to apply to reinstate its suspended permits, which the DMV will not approve until the company has fulfilled the requirements to the department’s satisfaction.”

The regulator said it has the right to pull back permissions when “there is an unreasonable risk to public safety.”

The suspension, which only applies to Cruise trips where no human safety driver is onboard the vehicle, follows an incident earlier this month, where a woman in San Francisco was struck by a human driver in a hit-and-run accident that propelled her into the path of a Cruise robotaxi.

“Ultimately, we develop and deploy autonomous vehicles in an effort to save lives,” Cruise said in a statement to ABC7. “In the incident being reviewed by the DMV, a human hit and run driver tragically struck and propelled the pedestrian into the path of the AV. The AV braked aggressively before impact and because it detected a collision, it attempted to pull over to avoid further safety issues. When the AV tried to pull over, it continued before coming to a final stop, pulling the pedestrian forward.”

“Our thoughts continue to be with the victim as we hope for a rapid and complete recovery,” the company added.

The suspension is a major blow to Cruise, which is owned by General Motors.

Alongside Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, Cruise saw California, and in particular San Francisco, as a key testing ground of driverless taxi technology.

The companies both got permission from state regulators in August to conduct paid taxi service 24/7 without a safety driver in San Francisco, despite vigorous debate in the city over whether the AVs were safe enough to operate.

The rollout of robotaxis in San Francisco has been marred with problems.

Driverless cars, in particular Cruise taxis, were accused of causing traffic and impeding first responders.

According to data Cruise shared with the state in August, between January and mid-July of 2023, Cruise AVs temporarily malfunctioned or shut down 177 times and required recovery, 26 of which such incidents occurred with a passenger inside, while Waymo recorded 58 such events in a similar time frame.

Meanwhile, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA), between April 2022 and April 2023, Cruise and Waymo vehicles have been involved in over 300 incidents of irregular driving including unexpected stops and collisions, while the San Francisco Fire Department says AVs have interfered 55 times in their work in 2023.

Last year, Cruise lost contact with its entire fleet for 20 minutes according to internal documentation viewed by WIRED, and an anonymous employee warned California regulators that year the company loses touch with its vehicles “with regularity.”

Since being rolled out in San Francisco, robotaxis have killed a dog, caused a mile-long traffic jam during rush hour, blocked a traffic lane as officials responded to a shooting, and driven over fire hoses.

Jeffrey Tumlin, San Francisco’s director of transportation, has called the rollout of robotaxis a “race to the bottom,” arguing Cruise and Waymo weren’t yet definitive transit solutions, and instead had only “met the requirements for a learner’s permit.”

Others have argued the introduction of driverless cars in San Francisco and beyond will further displace workers pushed out of the taxi industry by companies like Uber and Lyft.