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May 25, 2024

California halts operations of self-driving Cruise robotaxis

California halts operations of self-driving Cruise robotaxis

The California Department of Motor Vehicles said Tuesday that it was immediately suspending the permits that allowed the tech startup Cruise to operate driverless cars, halting the operations of one of the two companies that have been operating commercial robotaxi fleets in the state. 

The DMV said that the suspension would take effect immediately and that it was acting to protect public safety. Cruise vehicles have been involved in a series of incidents that sparked criticism from elected officials and members of the public, especially in San Francisco. 

“The California DMV today notified Cruise that the department is suspending Cruise’s autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing permits, effective immediately,” the department said in an emailed statement. 

Cruise said Tuesday that it was pausing operations and evaluating potential improvements, such as how it should handle events like an incident this month in which one of its cars drove over a pedestrian who had just been hit by a human driver.

“Ultimately, we develop and deploy autonomous vehicles in an effort to save lives,” Cruise said in an emailed statement.

In the incident this month, the human driver of another vehicle struck a pedestrian in San Francisco at night, tossing the pedestrian into the path of a Cruise self-driving car, which then drove over her, San Francisco police said. Police said at the time that they were investigating the factors that led to the collision, and they did not immediately say who they believed was at fault. 

Cruise said Tuesday that its vehicle in that incident “braked aggressively before impact and because it detected a collision” but that it then tried to pull over to avoid further safety issues and in the process pulled the pedestrian forward about 20 feet. 

“Our thoughts continue to be with the victim as we hope for a rapid and complete recovery,” Cruise said. “Our teams are currently doing an analysis to identify potential enhancements to the AV’s response to this kind of extremely rare event.”

In a blog post, Cruise said that “the human driver responsible for the incident is still at large,” and it said that, according to its simulations, “had it been a Cruise AV rather than the human driver, the AV would have detected and avoided the pedestrian, and the pedestrian could have continued on their way.” 

In an order of suspension it sent to Cruise on Tuesday, the California DMV wrote that a Cruise team failed to disclose the full details of the collision to the it and members of California Highway Patrol at a meeting Oct. 3.

The DMV suspended Cruise’s permits, citing that lack of transparency and safety concerns. The DMV wrote that “the manufacturer’s vehicles are not safe for the public’s operation” and that they “may lack the ability to respond in a safe and appropriate manner during incidents involving a pedestrian.”

The DMV said in its order of suspension that the Cruise automobile came to a complete stop but “subsequently attempted to perform a pullover maneuver while the pedestrian was underneath the vehicle.”

“The AV traveled approximately 20 feet and reached a speed of 7 mph before coming to a subsequent and final stop,” it added. “The pedestrian remained under the vehicle.”

Hannah Lindow, Cruise’s senior policy communications manager, wrote in an e-mail: “Cruise had a meeting with the DMV on 10/3, in which we showed them the complete video multiple times. They later requested a copy of the video shown on 10/3, which we provided to them. … Shortly after the incident, our team proactively shared information with the California DMV, CPUC, and NHTSA, including the full video. We have stayed in close contact with regulators to answer their questions.”

CPUC is the California Public Utilities Commission. NHTSA is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Cruise was founded in San Francisco in 2013 as one of a generation of startups dedicated to making driverless technology a reality. It is now majority-owned by General Motors. 

Cruise vehicles have also at times snarled traffic, as when nearly a dozen of them had difficulty navigating San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood in August because of what the company said were wireless connectivity issues. At other times, they have blocked city buses or delayed emergency vehicles, city officials have said. 

The suspension does not affect Waymo, the other company with a permit for a driverless taxi fleet. Waymo shares a parent company with Google. 

Supporters of the technology argue that despite the errors, Cruise and Waymo are still safer alternatives to human drivers. Neither company has been found to be at fault in a death, while San Francisco and many other cities have struggled to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries caused by humans. 

The DMV said that there was no set time for how long the Cruise suspension would last and that it had provided Cruise with “the steps needed 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.” 

Cruise may still test its technology with safety drivers in the cars, the DMV said. 

Cruise has been an expensive operation for its owners, including GM. As of earlier this year, the company was losing nearly $7 million a day, according to GM’s earnings report.

The company also has operations in Arizona and Texas. Cruise said California’s decision did not affect operations in those states.

David Ingram

David Ingram covers tech for NBC News.

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