Cruise agrees to halve its robotaxi fleet following two crashes

The GM-owned autonomous vehicle unit agrees to halve its robotaxi fleet in San Francisco after two crashes involving its cars.
Rizwan Choudhury
A robot car of the General Motors subsidiary Cruise is on a test drive.
A robot car of the General Motors subsidiary Cruise is on a test drive.

Credits: Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images 

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has asked Cruise, the autonomous vehicle unit of General Motors, to reduce its fleet of driverless cars in San Francisco by 50% after two recent collisions involving its vehicles. Cruise has agreed to comply with the request and will operate no more than 50 robotaxis during the day and 150 at night.

Two incidents

The DMV said in a statement that it was investigating the “concerning incidents” and that Cruise would have to take corrective action to improve safety. “The DMV reserves the right, following investigation of the facts, to suspend or revoke testing and/or deployment permits if there is determined to be an unreasonable risk to public safety,” the statement said.

One of the incidents occurred on Thursday night when a Cruise vehicle without a human driver hit an emergency vehicle that was responding to a call. To avoid a red light, the emergency vehicle had switched to the lane with traffic coming from the opposite direction, Cruise said. The robotaxi had a green light and entered the intersection, but could not avoid the collision. The robotaxi was carrying a passenger, who was injured and taken to a hospital by ambulance.

Another incident happened on the same night when a Cruise car without a passenger collided with another vehicle in San Francisco. The details of this incident are not clear yet.

Cruise said in a statement on its website that it had detected the emergency vehicle as soon as it came into view and had braked to reduce its speed. It also said that it had interacted with emergency vehicles more than 168,000 times in the first seven months of this year alone and that it was committed to continuous improvement. “We realize that we’ll always encounter challenging situations, which is why continuous improvement is central to our work,” the statement said.

The robotaxi company also stated that it would collaborate with city departments and regulators to lower the chances of such crashes occurring again.

Two fleets of robotaxis and a new driverless shuttle program

Despite safety concerns, the California Public Utilities Commission gave Cruise and Google spinoff Waymo the green light to operate autonomous robotaxis in San Francisco at any time, just over a week before the DMV’s decision. The decision made San Francisco the first major US city with two fleets of driverless vehicles competing for passengers. San Francisco has also launched a new service that lets people ride a driverless shuttle around Treasure Island.

Cruise is one of the leading players in the autonomous vehicle industry and has been testing its cars in San Francisco since 2016. It has driven more than 3 million autonomous miles in the city and has plans to launch a commercial robotaxi service soon.