California DMV hits brakes on Cruise's SF driverless fleet after series of fender benders

50% chop effective 'immediately' as department investigates traffic and safety issues

Updated San Francisco Bay Area techies who want to hail a driverless Cruise robo-taxi have fewer to pick from after officials said it must reduce its fleet "immediately" in the wake of several incidents, just a day after a collision between an emergency vehicle and an AV on Thursday night.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) said it was "investigating recent concerning incidents involving Cruise vehicles in San Francisco" and is in contact with both Cruise and law enforcement officials. It said its "primary focus" was "the safe operation of autonomous vehicles and safety of the public who share the road with these vehicles," adding it was investigating to "determine the facts."

The DMV said in a statement on Friday night that the company must slice its city fleet in half, meaning it would have no more than 50 driverless vehicles in operation during the day and 150 driverless vehicles in operation at night.

The night before, Cruise vehicles were involved in two collisions. The first collision was with first responders. The company tweeted that one of its cars had "entered the intersection on a green light and was struck by an emergency vehicle that appeared to be en route to an emergency scene." It added that its "car contained one passenger who was treated on scene and transported via ambulance for what we believe are non-severe injuries."

Cruise said in an update on Friday that its AV "did identify the risk of a collision and initiated a braking maneuver, reducing its speed, but was ultimately unable to avoid the collision."

It added: "The AV's ability to successfully chart the emergency vehicle's path was complicated by the fact that the emergency vehicle was in the oncoming lane of traffic, which it had moved into to bypass the red light."

We have asked the company for further comment.

In a report [PDF] released earlier this month, the San Francisco Fire Department said it had logged around 50 written reports of interference from Cruise and Waymo robo-taxis where they had blocked fire station ingress/egress or transit to locations, and other forms of intrusive driving behavior. The firefighters said in the report: "Cruise & Waymo do not disclose counts of unexpected stops or other incidents that impeded first responders."

The DMV said of its decision to halve the Cruise fleet:

The DMV reserves the right, following investigation of the facts, to suspend or revoke testing and/or deployment permits if there is determined to be an unreasonable risk to public safety.

It did not refer to specific incidents in its statement.

In a second collision on Thursday evening, at 26th and Mission Streets, a Dodge Charger collided with a Cruise AV. "The human-operated vehicle had likely run a red light, resulting in the collision. So, in this case, the autonomous vehicle did not appear to be at fault for the collision," SF police sergeant Kathryn Winters told CBS news. An onlooker told the outlet the Dodge Charger "was completely totaled. I mean it was just wiped. There was fluid leaking everywhere. Airbags were all deployed. It seems scary. Fortunately, the [driver] was OK and no injuries."

The news means it's one step forward, one step back for General Motors' robo-fleet, coming 10 days after it was given the green light to accelerate the rollout of its self-driving Cruise taxis in the US state by the California Public Utilities Commission. The commission had been moving against vocal opposition from police, firefighters, and other city agencies when it voted to expand the hours of operation for GM Cruise and Waymo robo-taxis in San Francisco.

The very next day, August 11, as we reported at the time, several of the robo-rides broke down – holding up traffic on a busy night – after the units reportedly lost wireless connectivity. ®

Updated at 17.39 UTC on August 21, 2023, to add:

A spokesperson at Cruise sent us a statement:

"Over one hundred people lose their lives every day on American roadways, and countless others are badly injured. We believe it's clear that Cruise positively impacts overall road safety, and look forward to working with the CA DMV to make any improvements and provide any data they need to reinforce the safety and efficiency of our fleet."

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