California DMV temporarily halts GM’s Cruise autonomous vehicle operations, saying drivers must be in the cars until certain problems are addressed.
The order comes after several incidents over a number of years.
Waymo is not affected by the DMV order, nor are Cruise and Waymo operations in other states.
California has pulled the plug on GM’s Cruise driverless cars.
“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 Department of Motor Vehicles said in a statement released Oct. 24. “When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits. There is no set time for a suspension.”
The DMV notified Cruise, GM’s driverless robotaxi division, that it suspended the company’s autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing permits “effective immediately.”
The department had started an investigation two months ago after numerous incidents where Cruise vehicles with no drivers in them got into trouble. The incidents ranged from seven of Cruise’s Chevrolet Bolt test vehicles becoming stuck at a San Francisco intersection and blocking traffic for hours, to speeding off after being pulled over by a police officer, and blocking a municipal bus route.
A Cruise test vehicle even received a ticket for getting too close to a crossing pedestrian, though the company did dispute this violation. Cruise vehicles have also driven into wet cement. In a more serious incident, a Cruise vehicle with a passenger in the back seat was struck by a fire engine after entering an intersection on a green light. In the latter incident the Cruise sensors did not “hear” the fire engine’s siren nor “see” its flashing lights.
(NHTSA data for the period 2000-2009 shows there were roughly 31,600 crashes involving fire apparatus in that time, long before driverless cars roamed any streets. That works out to about nine crashes a day over those 10 years. So fire engine collisions with other vehicles are not that rare.)
The most recent Cruise incident, and the one that resulted in the temporary suspension, involved a separate crash where a hit-and-run human driver struck a pedestrian. The hit-and-run collision did not involve Cruise. However, the impact from that crash sent the pedestrian into the path of an oncoming Cruise vehicle. The Cruise car immediately slammed on its brakes, but then continued on for 20 feet while it tried to drive out of traffic, as it appears to have been programmed to do.
The Teamsters Union, which represents a variety of human drivers, has been a vocal critic of driverless cars like these. The union could lose a considerable number of jobs if driverless cars and trucks become the norm. Thus, it wasted no time condemning Cruise and all driverless cars of the future.
“We’re saying hell no to driverless vehicles on our streets,” said Yvonne Wheeler, President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, quoted in a Teamsters press release.
“We have seen how much of a disaster these driverless cars are in San Francisco,” said Jeff Shaffer, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277. “They threaten public safety, increase congestion, and—in spite of what these companies claim—do far more harm than good when it comes to urban transportation infrastructure.”
“These machines won’t just put millions of good-paying, union jobs at risk—they pose a serious threat to pedestrian safety,” said Los Angeles City Council member Hugo Soto-Martínez in the same Teamsters release, and whose campaigns have been funded heavily by labor money. “We need actual regulations on robot taxis, and we should not be putting lives at risk by allowing our city to be a test subject for the tech industry.”
For our part, we just last week had a perfectly fine two rides in a Waymo driverless taxi from one end of Santa Monica to the other, and back, without hitting anything. The drive included an encounter with a paramedic ambulance with lights and siren on, for which the Waymo dutifully pulled over and stopped before we even noticed it.
Waymo was not affected by the DMV’s suspension of Cruise, and it can still operate its fleet of driverless taxis in California, as well as in Nevada and Texas. And Cruise can continue operating its fleet in California and other states, but now requires drivers to be present in California Cruises until certain conditions set by the DMV are met.
“The DMV has provided Cruise with the steps needed to apply to reinstate its suspended permits, which the DMV will not approve until the company has fulfilled the requirements to the department’s satisfaction. This decision does not impact the company’s permit for testing with a safety driver.”
Does this worry you? What do you think of driverless robotaxis? Tell us in the comments section below.