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Go home, Cruise, you’re drunk – but call a Waymo, ’cause you can’t drive in California anymore

Cruise’s license to operate autonomous vehicles in the state of California has been suspended effective immediately, announced the California Department of Motor Vehicles today.


GM’s Cruise subsidiary has been operating a driverless taxi service in San Francisco for the last few months, after the California Public Utilities Commission approved both GM’s Cruise and Google’s Waymo to expand operations of paid driverless “level 4” taxis in California.


Prior to that approval, Cruise had already been operating a paid driverless taxi service, but only at night. Its cars could operate at other times of day, but had to be either unpaid or have a safety driver present. Cruise actually beat Waymo to the punch on this one, offering a paid taxi service before its Google-based competitor did.


But now the tides have swung back into Waymo’s favor, as the California DMV has decided that Cruise vehicles are a threat to safety and must cease operations in the state immediately until the DMV is satisfied that Cruise has come into compliance with its requirements.


The announcement was made by the DMV today, which laid out four violations, related to safety and misrepresentation of facts to the DMV.


These violations were related to an October 2nd incident wherein a human driver hit a pedestrian (and then fled the scene), which pushed the pedestrian into the path of a Cruise vehicle. The Cruise vehicle immediately started braking to a halt before hitting the pedestrian, who was then stuck underneath, and remained on the scene while emergency responders extricated the seriously injured pedestrian. Video confirming the facts of the incident was shared with regulators, and shared with and verified by journalists, but not released to the public.


… Or so the story went. In further investigations, the DMV found out that, in fact, the Cruise vehicle did not remain still after braking, and attempted to pull over to the side of the road, dragging the seriously injured pedestrian about 20 feet at a speed of around 7 miles per hour. While Cruise had video of this subsequent maneuver, it did not disclose the video to the DMV until after the DMV learned of it “via discussion with another government agency.”


The DMV’s letter to Cruise chides the company for withholding information, and states that the vehicle’s “subsequent movement… increased the risk of, and may have caused, further injury to the pedestrian.” It also suggests that the vehicles may lack the decisionmaking capability of when it is safer to pull over or when it is safer to sit still after an accident.


So despite Cruise’s lack of responsibility for the initial strike, DMV has still laid responsibility on its decisions after the fact, both in terms of driving and organizational decisions.


The suspension is effective immediately, with Cruise no longer allowed to operate driverless taxis on California roads, though the company can still operate and test vehicles with human safety drivers. DMV states that it has provided Cruise with the steps necessary to reinstate its permits, so we’ll have to stay tuned to see how long it takes them to satisfy the DMV and be able to operate again.


Electrek’s Take

Cruise has been involved in several incidents recently, which have largely been widely reported. From traffic jams due to communication issues within the system, to getting hit by an emergency vehicle (Cruise had a green light but failed to yield for a fire truck), to driving through wet concrete, there has been quite a bit of bad news.


In contrast, Google’s Waymo, which is often mentioned in the same breath as GM’s Cruise, hasn’t had as many problems. While we haven’t been able to compare both of them (I got a chance to test Waymo’s service in LA earlier this month and came away impressed – read my way-too-detailed article about that ride here – but haven’t been in a Cruise car yet), anecdotally, we hear that the Waymo system works better than Cruise’s, and it also hasn’t had as many widely reported issues.


Recently, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt stated that these incidents have been “sensationalized,” and frankly he’s not entirely wrong. We’ve known all along that people would be overly cautious of new technology, would accept far less dangerous driving from AVs than the run-of-the-mill (and increasing) chaos they happily accept from human drivers.


You could write volumes about the crazy things that humans have done on the road in the same time frame as Cruise has been operating in SF. I drove for just a few hours today and saw 13 police cars headed for a high-speed chase of a human driver who was going 100 mph in the wrong direction, and then later saw a lowered SUV with a popped tire dragging its rear bumper down the freeway, throwing sparks behind it. That was just today, on one drive.


And look at the incident in question here – a human driver caused the accident and fled the scene so as not to be held accountable, and yet virtually all discussion of it has focused on the Cruise AV. Had the Cruise been in the place of the human driver, perhaps the incident would never have happened, and at the very least, at least the vehicle didn’t flee the scene so it could “accept the consequences.”


But that’s the rub – when the humans at Cruise got involved, they misled regulators in a way so as to not accept responsibility. They “hit-and-ran” in the same way as the human driver did.


And while it’s true that the public reacts irrationally to news of AVs behaving badly, Cruise should have known that the public, and regulators, react wholly rationally to public safety cover-ups. In short: They’re not fans.


So when the incident first happened, I thought: Okay, this is silly, the main incident people are using to call AVs unsafe is one which was started by a human driver?


But given that there’s more to the story, then it is of course reasonable to suspend Cruise’s license for its mendacity in this matter. And hopefully, this will be addressable. Cruise should be able to program the cars to be smarter about what to do in a situation where a pedestrian is actively trapped underneath the vehicle, and hopefully they can program themselves to be a little smarter about transparency in government investigations.



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