A passenger gets out of a Cruise driverless taxi after a test ride in San Francisco on February 15, 2023.
California regulators recently approved 24/7 operation of driverless taxis in San Francisco.Traffic jams and collisions followed within a week of the approval.City officials previously told Insider the approval would be “premature.”
Cruise, a self-driving car company, agreed to slash its driverless taxi operation in San Francisco by half on Friday following reports of two separate crashes involving its vehicles.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles said in a statement that it is investigating “recent concerning incidents involving Cruise vehicles” and that the company agreed to its request to reduce the number of operating vehicles by 50% with “no more than 50 driverless vehicles in operation during the day and 150 driverless vehicles in operation at night.”
“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,” a Cruise spokesperson told Insider in an email.
Cruise is cutting down its fleet just a week after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) gave the company, along with Alphabet’s Waymo, the green light to operate driverless taxis 24/7 in San Francisco.
CPUC Commissioner Darcie Houck indicated on the day of the approval that the commission could vote to limit the number of driverless vehicles or revoke the companies’ permits entirely if there are more reports of incidents, The Verge reported.
The DMV also said it reserves the ability to suspend or revoke testing or deployment permits.
A day after the state regulators’ approval, videos of several Cruise cars stalling in the middle of San Francisco’s roads appeared online, with a buildup reportedly involving around 10 Cruise cars.
The company said SF’s Outside Lands Music Festival “posed wireless bandwidth constraints causing delayed connectivity to our vehicles.”
One Cruise vehicle also drove into wet concrete at a construction site.
On Thursday, two Cruise robotaxis were involved in separate collision incidents, one of which occurred while a passenger was inside the vehicle.
The Cruise taxi did not yield to the firetruck, injuring a passenger inside the car, a firefighter at the scene told CBS Bay Area.
Cruise said in a statement posted on X that its vehicle entered the intersection on a green light “and was struck by an emergency vehicle that appeared to be en route to an emergency scene.”
In a separate statement, Cruise said that the buildings in that area make it difficult “for humans and AVs alike” to spot objects around the corner until they’re close to the intersection.
The company 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.”
Another collision occurred that evening, in which another vehicle ran a red light “at a high rate of speed,” the company told Insider.
“The AV detected the vehicle and braked but the other vehicle made contact with our AV. There were no passengers in our AV and the driver of the other vehicle was treated and released at the scene,” a Cruise spokesperson said.
City officials and agencies previously raised concerns that San Francisco was not prepared to handle the expansion of driverless taxi operations.
Tilly Chang, executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA), previously told Insider that her agency believes approving the permits would be “premature.”
“We’re not saying don’t do anything … but there needs to be an incremental form of that expansion,” she said.
Before the recent collisions, there had already been incident reports of Cruise cars causing traffic jams, interrupting emergency situations, and running into dogs.
Chang noted that local agencies know about these incidents only because they’re “piecing it together ourselves” and that part of the issue they have stemmed from the lack of data.
“We’ve been asking for the companies to voluntarily or for the CPUC to require a log of incidents,” she said.
Joe Castiglione, SFCTA’s deputy director for technology, data, and analysis, told Insider that, based on the agency’s data, there were about 90-plus incidents involving driverless cars by the end of 2022.
But in March — shortly after CPUC granted Cruise and Waymo permits to collect taxi fares during limited hours of the day — the number increased to about a hundred per month.
“One of the challenges is that there’s very little data available to the public or to public agencies to understand what’s happening on the street,” Castiglione said.