Oct 30, 2023 - News

Cruise suspends its Austin self-driving car tests

A visual of a car with a boot on it.

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Tapping the brakes on a nationwide experiment in autonomous vehicles, Cruise has suspended its self-driving cars in Austin.

Why it matters: The driverless car operations had led to complaints from Austin drivers and first responders.

Catch up quick: Officials with Cruise, a California-based subsidiary of GM, announced late last week they are pausing driverless operations.

  • "The most important thing for us right now is to take steps to rebuild public trust," company officials posted on X.

Context: The move comes after the California Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday suspended Cruise's driverless testing permits in San Francisco due to an "unreasonable risk to public safety."

By the numbers: The 150 Cruise vehicles deployed here represent the lion's share of the 189 total self-driving-capable vehicles on Austin streets, per a city staff presentation on Friday to the Austin City Council's Mobility Committee.

  • Other companies operating self-driving vehicles in Austin include Volkswagen and Waymo.

Get smart: Local officials have little authority over the companies as they make Austin a testbed for their vehicles.

Yes, but: Austin police, fire and EMS officials have created an AV Safety Working Group to train for incidents involving autonomous vehicles, collect incident data and better communicate with the car companies.

What they're saying: "Public trust is a big takeaway for me from this decision," Austin City Council Member Paige Ellis said at the Friday briefing by city staff.

  • "Thankfully, there haven't been injuries related to driverless cars in our city, but they have caused their fair share of frustrations," she said. She continued: "Our public roads should not be a test playground."

Zoom in: An Austin Fire Department official reported on Oct. 21 that a Cruise vehicle "drove through an emergency crash scene" and a firefighter "only avoided being struck due to his situational awareness," per a city complaints database reviewed by Axios, which did not include names.

  • Another complaint, logged by an unnamed resident on Windsor Road in West Austin, reported a driverless car on Oct. 23 "almost killed my dog.
  • "Austinites and our understaffed police force have enough to deal with on the crowded roads," this person wrote. "Why would we add to our traffic problems with cars without drivers. I feel like we are Guinea pigs."

What's next: Austin-based Tesla and other companies are continuing to experiment with self-driving cars.


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