Cruise will temporarily be deploying fewer autonomous vehicles in San Francisco while investigators are looking into “recent concerning incidents” involving its fleet. According to The New York Times and TechCrunch, the California Department of Motor Vehicles asked the company to cut its fleet in half after an incident wherein one of Cruise’s robotaxis collided with a fire truck at an intersection. The fire truck had its sirens and red lights on and was responding to an emergency at the time, while the robotaxi has passengers onboard who sustained non-life-threatening injuries. In another, perhaps less controversial, incident a few days before that, a Cruise vehicle got stuck in wet concrete.
The DMV said in a statement that its primary focus is “the safe operation of autonomous vehicles and safety of the public who share the road with these vehicles.” It also added that it “reserves the right, following investigation of the facts, to suspend or revoke testing and/or deployment permits” if it determines that a company’s vehicles is a threat to public safety. The agency has asked Cruise to limit its driverless vehicles in operation to 50 during daytime and 150 at night, at least until the investigation is done.
In an explanation about the collision posted on the company’s website, Cruise’s General Manager for San Francisco, Greg Dietrerich, said the robotaxi identified the emergency vehicle as soon as it came into view. It was also able to distinguish the fire truck’s sirens “as soon as it was distinguishable from the background noise.” However, it wasn’t possible to see vehicles coming from around the corner “until they are physically very close to the intersection” where the incident happened. Further, the autonomous vehicle had trouble predicting the fire truck’s path, because it moved into the “oncoming lane of traffic” to bypass a red light. Dietrerich said Cruise’s AV identified the risk of a collision and hit the brake to reduce its speed, but it wasn’t able to avoid the crash completely due to those conditions.
The DMV’s request comes just a few days after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted in favor of allowing both Cruise and Waymo to charge fares for fully driverless rides any time of the day in San Francisco. Before that, Cruise could only offer fared rides with no safety driver onboard in limited areas of the city between 10PM and 6AM. The only commissioner who voted against the companies’ paid ride expansion argued that the CPUC didn’t have enough information to accurately evaluate the impact of autonomous vehicles on first responders.
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