Oct 24, 2023 - Economy & Business

California suspends Cruise driverless vehicles in San Francisco

A Cruise vehicle in San Francisco this summer. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Cruise is no longer allowed to operate fully autonomous vehicles in San Francisco after the state suspended two of its permits, citing safety rules.

Driving the news: The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended Cruise's autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing permits in the city, effective immediately, due to an "unreasonable risk to public safety," the department announced Tuesday.

  • Cruise is now only permitted to operate its vehicles with a human safety driver present.
  • The DMV said it notified the company of the steps required to regain its permits, "which the DMV will not approve until the company has fulfilled the requirements to the department's satisfaction."

Why it matters: The DMV's decision comes amid a growing chorus of safety concerns about robotaxis from the public as well as city, state and federal regulators.

The big picture: Driverless vehicle companies in California need the approval of the DMV and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to operate. The DMV authorized commercial-use permits for Cruise in San Francisco specifically in 2021.

  • Since the CPUC approved Cruise's and Waymo's expansions in August, the vehicles have recently become commonplace in San Francisco.
  • But within weeks, the DMV asked Cruise to cut its vehicle fleet total in half while the department investigated two separate car accidents in the city involving robotaxis.

Cruise learned of the suspension Tuesday morning and will comply, spokesperson Navideh Forghani told Axios via email.

  • "Ultimately, we develop and deploy autonomous vehicles in an effort to save lives," she said.

Zoom in: The DMV said the suspension was "based on" regulations that allow it to act when it finds manufacturers "misrepresented" safety information and determines the vehicles "are not safe for the public's operation."

  • The DMV, however, did not elaborate on specific incidents or violations.

Of note: In its announcement, the department made no mention of Waymo, Cruise's main competitor, which remains authorized to test and deploy driverless vehicles in San Francisco.

Threat level: Last week, federal regulators began investigating Cruise's autonomous vehicle operations following reports that vehicles did not take appropriate caution around pedestrians.

  • That includes an alarming San Francisco accident earlier this month in which a Cruise vehicle stopped on top of a pedestrian who had been hit by a human-driven vehicle.
  • In the full suspension order obtained by Vice, the DMV said Cruise failed to disclose that its robotaxi attempted to pull over after running over the injured pedestrian, which meant the person was dragged under the vehicle for another 20 feet.

The other side: Cruise confirmed the vehicle tried to pull over after detecting the collision, but the company disputed the DMV's assertion that it omitted this information, saying it shared the full video with the agency.

What they're saying: "Public safety remains the California DMV's top priority," the department said in its statement.

  • "When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits."

Between the lines: Hours before the state announcement on Tuesday morning, Teamsters union members, city leaders and others rallied outside of Cruise's San Francisco headquarters to share concerns about the vehicles' safety and the threat to delivery worker jobs.

  • Cruise is working to launch special vehicles for a driverless delivery service and had already begun testing them in San Francisco.
  • Tony Delorio, a leader with Teamsters Local 665 representing UPS drivers in the city, said Tuesday that Cruise is "here for parcel delivery, and that threatens our jobs."

Our thought bubble: The suspension is a huge blow for General Motors-owned Cruise, which has been aggressively expanding to new cities in hopes of achieving a profitable scale.

  • And it could also set back the entire autonomous vehicle industry by raising questions among regulators and the general public about whether self-driving technology is ready for prime time.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include newly-released details about the recent San Francisco accident involving a pedestrian.

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