San Francisco, CA – U.S. and California authorities are currently in discussions with General Motors’ self-driving unit, Cruise, following an accident in San Francisco involving a pedestrian who was struck by a hit-and-run driver and subsequently by a Cruise robotaxi. The incident, which occurred late Monday, has raised concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles in urban environments.
According to the company, after being hit by the hit-and-run driver and thrown into an adjacent lane, the pedestrian was struck again by the Cruise robotaxi, which was unable to stop in time. The self-driving vehicle came to a stop on top of the pedestrian, prompting a response from the San Francisco Fire Department, which utilized rescue tools to free the victim before transporting them to a nearby trauma center.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a statement on Tuesday acknowledging the incident, stating that it “is aware of the incident and is in contact with the operator and local authorities to gather additional information.” The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) also confirmed that it met with Cruise on Tuesday to gather more details about the incident, emphasizing that it takes all collisions involving autonomous vehicles seriously.
San Francisco police reported that Cruise is fully cooperating in the ongoing investigation.
This incident comes on the heels of previous investigations into Cruise’s operations. In August, the DMV initiated an investigation into “recent concerning incidents” involving Cruise vehicles in San Francisco. As a result, the DMV requested that Cruise temporarily remove half of its robotaxis from public roads, a request to which the company complied.
The DMV further noted on Tuesday that its investigation into Cruise is ongoing and cautioned that it could “suspend or revoke testing and/or deployment permits if there is determined to be an unreasonable risk to public safety.”
In a related development, the Teamsters union recently urged the NHTSA to deny Cruise’s petition to deploy up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without human controls such as steering wheels. Cruise has been working to deploy its Origin vehicle, which features subway-like doors and lacks traditional steering wheels, unlike the current robotaxis in use on public roads.
Last December, NHTSA initiated a formal safety probe into the autonomous driving system used in Cruise vehicles following reports of two injuries in rear-end collisions. The agency’s investigation focused on concerns that Cruise vehicles “may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized.”
As investigations continue, the incident in San Francisco underscores the ongoing challenges and questions surrounding the safety and deployment of autonomous vehicles in real-world urban settings.
The Rise of Robotaxis
Robotaxis have been heralded as the future of transportation. These autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionize how people get around in cities, promising increased safety, reduced traffic congestion, and improved access to mobility for people who may not be able to drive.
Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, is one of the companies at the forefront of developing robotaxi technology. Their Origin vehicle, with its unique design featuring subway-like doors and the absence of traditional steering wheels, represents a significant departure from traditional vehicles. Cruise envisions a future where these vehicles provide a convenient and efficient way for people to move around urban environments.
However, as the recent incident in San Francisco highlights, the road to widespread adoption of robotaxis is not without its challenges. Safety remains a paramount concern, especially in complex urban environments where pedestrians and other vehicles share the road with autonomous vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) are actively involved in regulating and overseeing the deployment of autonomous vehicles, and they take safety seriously. Incidents like the one in San Francisco prompt close scrutiny and ongoing investigations to ensure that autonomous vehicles meet rigorous safety standards.
The Teamsters union’s call for a denial of Cruise’s petition to deploy self-driving vehicles without human controls underscores the debate surrounding the role of human oversight in autonomous transportation. Striking the right balance between autonomy and human intervention is a complex issue that regulators, companies like Cruise, and stakeholders must address as the technology matures.