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California orders Cruise driverless cars off the roads because of safety concerns

A Cruise technician comes to restart a driverless car in San Francisco.
Josh Edelson
AFP via Getty Images
A Cruise technician comes to restart a driverless car in San Francisco.

California has ordered the company Cruise to immediately stop operations of its driverless cars in the state. The Department of Motor Vehicles said on Tuesday that it was issuing the indefinite suspension because of safety issues with the vehicles.

"When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits," the DMV wrote in a statement. "There is no set time for a suspension."

The move comes after one of Cruise's driverless cars struck a pedestrian in downtown San Francisco earlier this month. The incident involved a woman who was first hit by a human driver and then thrown onto the road in front of a Cruise vehicle. The Cruise vehicle braked but then continued to roll over the pedestrian, pulling her forward, then coming to a final stop on top of her.

Rescuers used the jaws of life to remove the vehicle and free the woman. The pedestrian survived but sustained life-threatening injuries.

"Our teams are currently doing an analysis to identify potential enhancements to the AV's response to this kind of extremely rare event," said Navideh Forghani, a Cruise spokesperson.

Forghani said Cruise provided regulators a video of the incident and is complying with the DMV's order and "pausing operations." Those cars that have a human safety driver will be allowed to continue operating in the state.

The DMV originally gave Cruise a permit for 300 driverless vehicles in San Francisco, but it cut that number in half after one of its cars collided with a firetruck in August.

Driverless cars run by Cruise, which is owned by GM, and Waymo, which is owned by Alphabet, have been involved in numerous mishaps in the city over the past several months. They've run red lights, rear-ended a bus and blocked crosswalks and bike paths.

San Francisco's police and fire departments have also said the cars aren't yet ready for public roads. They've tallied more than 55 incidents where self-driving cars have gotten in the way of rescue operations. Those incidents include driving through yellow emergency tape, blocking firehouse driveways, running over fire hoses and refusing to move for first responders.

Despite those incidents, state regulators voted in August to allow self-driving car companies to expand their operations in San Francisco and other California cities. That prompted the city of San Francisco to file motions with the state demanding a halt to that expansion.

"We need actual people behind the wheel with a pulse and a brain that know how to maneuver in sticky situations," San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton said at Tuesday rally protesting the driverless cars. "These Cruise vehicles are dangerous on our streets. When they see tragedy or see danger or there's an obstacle in their way, all they know how to do is freeze."

Federal regulators are also looking at the safety of driverless cars. Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into Cruise citing pedestrian safety concerns.

The crackdown on Cruise comes as GM announced during its earnings call this week that it is intent on expanding its driverless car program in the U.S.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.
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