In a significant move, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has announced the suspension of autonomous vehicle firm Cruise LLC’s permits, effectively putting the brakes on their driverless robotaxi operations. The San Francisco-based company, a subsidiary of General Motors, has faced multiple challenges in recent times, leading to this decision. However, it’s important to note that the suspension does not affect Cruise’s permit for testing their autonomous vehicles with a safety driver onboard.
The DMV’s decision is based on several issues outlined in the California Code of Regulations (CCR), including:
- Safety Concerns: CCR §228.20 (b) (6) states that the DMV can suspend permits if the vehicles’ performance is deemed unsafe for public use.
- Misrepresentation: CCR §228.20 (b) (3) allows the DMV to suspend permits if the manufacturer has misrepresented any information related to the safety of its autonomous technology.
- Unreasonable Risk: CCR §227.42 (b)(5) empowers the DMV to suspend permits if the manufacturer’s actions or omissions are found to pose an unreasonable risk to the public.
- Immediate Safety Concerns: CCR §227.42 (c) permits the DMV to immediately suspend permits if there is a clear and immediate safety risk on public roads.
Cruise responded swiftly to the suspension by announcing the temporary cessation of their autonomous vehicle operations in San Francisco. In a statement, the company emphasized its commitment to developing and deploying autonomous vehicles with safety in mind.
The troubles for Cruise began when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowed Cruise and its competitor, Waymo, to expand testing of their robotaxis in San Francisco. This decision faced criticism from city officials who advocated for a more cautious approach. Reports of autonomous vehicles making incorrect turns, stalling in the middle of roads, and interfering with first responders further fueled concerns.
Following these incidents, Cruise agreed to reduce its robotaxi fleet in the city by half, at the request of the DMV, after two accidents, one of which involved an emergency vehicle. The company faced additional scrutiny after a hit-and-run incident, where a human driver struck a woman near Market and Fifth streets, causing her to be propelled into the path of a robotaxi. The victim sustained serious injuries, and authorities are still searching for the hit-and-run driver.
Cruise defended its actions in response to the hit-and-run incident, explaining that their autonomous vehicle had attempted to avoid the collision and assist the victim. The company claimed to have shared information with regulatory bodies and assisted the police in identifying the hit-and-run vehicle. They also mentioned ongoing efforts to enhance their vehicle’s response in such rare situations.
However, the DMV noted that Cruise failed to provide video footage showing the vehicle’s actions after the initial stop and didn’t promptly report the vehicle’s movements. The additional video was only provided after the DMV requested it on October 13.
In a related development, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) initiated an investigation into Cruise after receiving reports of incidents where their autonomous vehicles allegedly didn’t exercise proper caution around pedestrians on the road.
San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu applauded the DMV’s decision, emphasizing the importance of public safety. Chiu urged the CPUC to reconsider its decision to expand autonomous vehicle operations in the city, emphasizing the need for a more measured approach.
Experts in autonomous transportation, like Phil Koopman from Carnegie Mellon University, questioned the rationale behind testing autonomous technology without a safety driver. Koopman argued that having a safety driver doesn’t hinder progress and is essential for ensuring public safety.
Even before the suspension was announced, labor groups, including the Teamsters, had raised concerns about safety and jobs outside Cruise’s San Francisco headquarters. They expressed disappointment, suggesting that their warnings had gone unheeded.
The DMV has provided Cruise with a roadmap for reinstating their suspended permits, contingent upon fulfilling all necessary requirements to the department’s satisfaction. The agency maintains that reinstatement will only occur if the company addresses the underlying safety issues.