Updated Dec 16, 2022 - Economy

Why GM's self-driving robotaxis are facing a federal probe

A Cruise vehicle in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday Feb. 2, 2022.

A Cruise vehicle in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal safety regulators have opened an investigation into General Motors' self-driving robotaxis over potential safety hazards related to hard braking and blocking traffic.

Why it matters: The probe of GM's Cruise comes as federal regulations for self-driving cars remain unclear and the business case for them remains unproven, Axios' Joann Muller writes.

Driving the news: The Cruise vehicles are being reviewed because they "may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized while operating," blocking traffic, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in a filing.

  • The NHTSA said that it received reports of three rear-end collisions after Cruise vehicles braked a little too hard. The vehicles were under human supervision at the time of the crashes.
  • There were also reports that the vehicles blocked lanes and intersections, becoming "an unexpected obstacle to other road users," the NHTSA said.
  • Although the two types of incidents are unrelated, they "may introduce multiple potential hazards" to passengers, traffic and Cruise vehicles, according to the NHTSA.

What they're saying: "We’ll continue to fully cooperate with NHTSA or any regulator," Drew Pusateri, a Cruise spokesperson, told Axios in an email.

  • "There’s always a balance between healthy regulatory scrutiny and the innovation we desperately need to save lives," he added.
  • The company has driven at least 700,000 autonomous miles "with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities," he said.
  • Pusateri said Cruise met with the NHTSA to discuss each of the hard-braking events and shared information that regulators requested.
  • The concerns over Cruise vehicles causing traffic issues are "rare" and have "not resulted in collisions," he added.

The big picture: The investigation comes as Cruise received a permit Thursday to expand across San Francisco. The company still needs one more permit to be able to charge for that service, Axios' Muller reports.

  • Earlier this week, Cruise exclusively told Axios San Francisco that it partnered with the University of San Francisco to offer free robotaxi rides to students.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect that the company has logged 700,000 autonomous miles, not driven 700,000 autonomous vehicles.

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