The state of California pulled the parking brake on Cruise driverless vehicles.
What’s new: The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended Cruise’s permit to operate vehicles in the state without safety drivers. The General Motors subsidiary responded by halting its robotaxi operations across the United States.
How it works: The California DMV acted following an early October incident in San Francisco. A Cruise driverless car struck and trapped a pedestrian who had been thrown into its path by a separate hit-and-run.
- The California DMV concluded that “Cruise's vehicles may lack the ability to respond in a safe and appropriate manner during incidents involving a pedestrian."
- Cruise initially failed to provide a complete video record of the incident, the agency said. A Cruise spokesperson responded in a statement to the press that the company had shared this material proactively and swiftly.
- The department gave Cruise five days to appeal the suspension. Instead, Cruise voluntarily suspended operations across the U.S. Previously, Cruise had deployed robotaxis without safety drivers throughout San Francisco, California, and in limited areas of Phoenix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Houston, Texas.
- Cruise said it would continue to test self-driving vehicles with safety drivers onboard.
Behind the news: Cruise’s deployment of driverless taxis in San Francisco has been troubled.
- In August, the California Public Utilities Commission — a different California government agency — authorized Cruise and Google’s self-driving subsidiary Waymo to charge for driverless taxi rides throughout San Francisco around the clock. Days after receiving the permit, a Cruise taxi struck a San Francisco emergency vehicle. The California DMV ordered Cruise to reduce its fleet by half.
- In April, a Cruise vehicle rear-ended a San Francisco city bus. The company responded by issuing a software update.
- San Francisco residents repeatedly have reported Cruise cars stalled in city streets.
- In December 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — a U.S. federal agency — opened a probe (which is ongoing) into reports that Cruise cars caused accidents by braking abruptly. Last month, the agency started a second investigation into the vehicles’ risk to pedestrians.
Why it matters: Cruise’s latest trouble is a serious setback not just for GM, but for the self-driving car industry, which has been criticized for overpromising and underdelivering. The California DMV’s act has energized politicians, activists, and other public figures who oppose driverless taxis.
We’re thinking: The AI community must lean into transparency to inspire the public’s trust. California determined that Cruise was not fully forthcoming about its role in the incident — a serious breach of that trust. Voluntary suspension of operations is a welcome step toward restoring it. We hope the company takes the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive review.