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California regulators suspend Cruise's driverless taxi service in San Francisco amid safety concerns

In a significant blow to Cruise, a General Motors subsidiary, California regulators have ordered the suspension of its driverless taxi service in San Francisco.

The decision comes after a string of traffic mishaps, including a recent incident where a Cruise vehicle dragged a pedestrian for 20 feet after a collision. The state's Department of Motor Vehicles (D.M.V.) cited safety concerns as the basis for the suspension, which comes approximately three months after California allowed Cruise to expand its operations.

This latest directive from the D.M.V. follows a tumultuous few months for Cruise. Despite objections from San Francisco officials, state regulators granted Cruise permission to expand its service in the city back in August. However, just over a week later, the D.M.V. ordered Cruise to reduce its fleet in San Francisco by 50%.

The most recent incident, which occurred on 2 October, involved a pedestrian being struck by a regular car before being hit by a Cruise vehicle. The pedestrian became trapped underneath the driverless car as it attempted to pull over, ultimately dragging the individual until coming to a stop. Cruise has defended its autonomous vehicle, claiming that it had ‘braked aggressively’.

The D.M.V. said in a short statement on 24 October: “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. 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 California DMV today notified Cruise that the department is suspending Cruise’s autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing permits, effective immediately. 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.”

In a statement, Cruise said: “Earlier this month, one of our AVs was involved in a horrible hit-and-run incident in which a human driver collided with a pedestrian crossing the street in San Francisco. This then launched the pedestrian directly in front of our AV. First and foremost, our thoughts are with the individual, and we are hoping for their complete recovery. We also assisted the police with identifying the vehicle of the hit and run driver.

“Ultimately, safety is at the core of everything we do at Cruise — we want to drastically reduce the number of people injured and killed each year on our roadways. It’s with that mindset that we analyse incidents so we can identify opportunities to further enhance safety.“

The statement went on to detail the collision and the findings made by the autonomous vehicle firm. Cruise concluded: “Safety is fundamental to our mission to save lives — it’s at the core of everything we do. We are devastated by what happened to the victim, and are committed, as always, to continuously improving our safety — including in response to extremely rare scenarios such as this. Our teams are currently doing an analysis to identify potential enhancements to the AV’s response to rare circumstances like this one. With over 5 million miles of driving, our safety record shows that our AVs are safer than a human benchmark in dense, urban environments — but our safety work is never done, and we remain deeply committed to continuously improving our safety performance on a daily basis.”

This suspension marks a significant setback for Cruise, which had been conducting autonomous car testing in San Francisco for several years and introduced a limited driverless taxi service in the city last year.

The decision also casts a shadow on the emerging driverless car industry as a whole. With leading tech and auto companies having invested billions of dollars in this technology, it was just beginning to gain some mainstream acceptance. It's likely that the California regulators' ruling will lead to increased calls for federal regulators to scrutinise autonomous vehicle technology more closely.

In a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Cruise announced that it would temporarily halt its driverless operations in San Francisco while working on technological enhancements for their cars.

While Cruise can still conduct autonomous vehicle testing in California, the cars must now have safety drivers capable of taking control in emergencies. The D.M.V. did not specify the duration of the suspension.


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