Cruise parks entire US fleet over safety fears

Roadblocks ahead as external watchdog hired for full audit of self-driving biz

Cruise is temporarily halting supervised and manual operations of its autonomous vehicles in the US and is hiring an outsider to assess the technology and safety risks of its computer-controlled cars. 

Last month, the self-driving taxi biz made headlines when one of its driverless cars struck a woman and trapped her under the vehicle just seconds after she had been knocked down by a human hit-and-run driver in San Francisco. A few weeks after the accident, it was revealed Cruise's vehicle had also dragged her along the road for roughly 20 feet before it came to a stop over her body.

The California's Department of Motor Vehicles rescinded Cruise's self-driving vehicle license and the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into recent incidents involving crashes with pedestrians. The former claimed Cruise had not shared the complete footage of at least one blunder; the GM-owned biz, however, denied this.

Now, Cruise is going one step further and is halting all "supervised and manual [autonomous vehicle] (AV) operations" in the US too: that means no more rides or journeys for a while, with or without a human at the wheel. Headquartered in San Francisco, the startup had also been working to expand its fleet of robo-taxis in Phoenix, Arizona, and in Austin and Houston, Texas. 

"This orderly pause is a further step to rebuild public trust while we undergo a full safety review. We will continue to operate our vehicles in closed course training environments and maintain an active simulation program in order to stay focused on advancing AV technology," it said in an update on Tuesday.

Cruise also reported that engineering consulting firm Exponent, previously hired to assess the October accident, will expand its probe to cover the operation's safety and culture. The move comes after it promised to hire a chief safety officer, who will directly report to the CEO Kyle Vogt.

The fleet shutdown is voluntary, and was agreed upon after Cruise held a quarterly meeting with its board in San Francisco. 

Last week, it said it had issued a software fix to prevent its vehicles from dragging people under its car following a collision. Cruise said its previous Collision Detection Subsystem may attempt to pull over after an accident, but now it should be better at detecting whether a person might be trapped under its vehicle, which is somewhat reassuring. 

"Cruise is dedicated to rebuilding trust and operating at the highest standards of safety. We are committed to keeping our customers, regulators, and the public informed throughout this process," Cruise commented. ®

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