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California suspends Cruise robotaxis after car dragged pedestrian 20 feet

California suspends Cruise robotaxis after car dragged pedestrian 20 feet

Less than three months after the California Public Utilities Commission approved robotaxi-service Cruise’s plan to provide around-the-clock driverless rides to passengers in San Francisco, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has shut down Cruise’s driverless operations in the state.

Yesterday, the California DMV suspended Cruise’s permits for autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing “effective immediately” over pedestrian safety concerns.

“Public safety remains the California DMV’s top priority, and the department’s autonomous vehicle regulations provide a framework to facilitate the safe testing and deployment of this technology on California public roads,” the DMV’s announcement said. “When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits.”

The suspension followed two notable accidents involving Cruise’s robotaxis. In August, one person was injured after a Cruise vehicle crashed into a fire truck, CNBC reported. And earlier this month, a pedestrian using a crosswalk was found in critical condition after a driver of another vehicle struck the pedestrian and threw her into the path of an oncoming Cruise robotaxi.

This hit-and-run incident is still being investigated. According to Cruise, its autonomous vehicle (AV) detected the collision and stopped on top of the pedestrian, then veered off the road, dragging the pedestrian about 20 feet. When the AV finally stopped, it appeared to pin the pedestrian’s leg beneath a tire while videos showed the pedestrian was screaming for help.

A few weeks after the October incident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a probe into Cruise, examining whether Cruise had taken enough precautions to keep pedestrians safe, Reuters reported.

California’s DMV shares NHTSA’s concerns and said that the suspension was based on several troubling determinations by the department, finding that Cruise AVs “are not safe for the public’s operation,” Cruise safety information appears to have been misrepresented, and Cruise AVs may pose “an unreasonable risk to the public.”

Cruise can reapply for the permits, but that application will not be approved unless the California DMV is satisfied that Cruise’s driverless taxis are safe for the road. In the meantime, Cruise can continue operating its taxi service so long as there is a driver behind the wheel.

After the hit-and-run incident, Cruise published a blog post confirming that the company is assisting police in identifying the driver who initially struck the pedestrian and saying, “our thoughts are with the individual, and we are hoping for their complete recovery.”

That blog included a complete breakdown of what happened. It also claimed that if the Cruise vehicle had detected the pedestrian in the crosswalk before she was hit by the other vehicle, a simulation showed that the Cruise car would have prevented the accident.

“Ultimately, safety is at the core of everything we do at Cruise—we want to drastically reduce the number of people injured and killed each year on our roadways,” Cruise’s blog said. “It’s with that mindset that we analyze incidents so we can identify opportunities to further enhance safety.”

Cruise promised that its teams have immediately begun working on “potential enhancements to the AV’s response to rare circumstances like this one,” so it’s possible that its driverless taxis could one day meet the DMV’s safety standards and return to California roads.

After the suspension, a Cruise spokesperson provided a statement to Ars, confirming that Cruise “will be pausing operations of our driverless AVs in San Francisco” while the DMV and police investigate what happened to the pedestrian who was critically injured. Cruise’s spokesperson also confirmed that the driver involved in the hit-and-run is still at large.

“Our thoughts continue to be with the victim as we hope for a rapid and complete recovery,” Cruise’s spokesperson said. “We have stayed in close contact with regulators to answer their questions and assisted the police with identifying the vehicle of the hit-and-run driver. Our teams are currently doing an analysis to identify potential enhancements to the AV’s response to this kind of extremely rare event.”

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