“The DMV has provided Cruise with the steps needed to apply to reinstate its suspended permits, which the DMV will not approve until the company has fulfilled the requirements to the department’s satisfaction,” the agency said in a statement. The company, which is part of General Motors, may still test its cars on the road if there is a safety driver in the vehicle.
Driverless cars created by Cruise and Google’s Waymo have become ubiquitous in San Francisco, where state regulators allowed the companies in August to operate 24/7 paid robotaxi service around the city. The cars have drawn mixed results and some protests from city leaders, as they have suddenly stopped in crowded intersections and interrupted the normal flow of traffic. The cars also have disrupted first responders on numerous occasions, from rolling into scenes cordoned off by caution tape to once colliding with a firetruck on its way to an emergency scene.
In an interview with The Washington Post last month, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said the criticism of driverless cars is overblown and that many of the incidents involving his company have been “sensationalized.” However, the DMV said in its decision Tuesday that Cruise vehicles are “not safe for the public’s operation,” and also determined the company misrepresented “information related to safety of the autonomous technology.”
In its reasoning for suspending Cruise’s permits, the DMV cited one particularly jarring incident from earlier this month when a Cruise vehicle rolled over a pedestrian who was flung into its path by a human driver. While the Cruise initially came to a complete stop, the driverless car then attempted to pull over to the side of the road with the woman critically injured underneath. As of Tuesday evening, the victim was in serious condition, according to a spokeswoman for Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.
Cruise’s initial accounting of the incident to both regulators and The Post failed to mention that the car moved 20 feet with the woman underneath. The DMV chided the company’s lack of initial transparency, and said the omission “hinders the ability of the department to effectively and timely evaluate the safe operation of Cruise’s vehicles and puts the safety of the public at risk.”
“The subsequent maneuvering of the vehicle indicates that Cruise’s vehicles may lack the ability to respond in a safe and appropriate manner during incidents involving a pedestrian so as not to unnecessarily put the pedestrian or others at risk of further injury,” the DMV said.
In a statement, Cruise spokeswoman Hannah Lindow said after the incident that the company “proactively” shared information with state and federal investigators, “including the full video.”
“We have stayed in close contact with regulators to answer their questions and assisted the police with identifying the vehicle of the hit-and-run driver,” she said. “Our teams are currently doing an analysis to identify potential enhancements to the [autonomous vehicle’s] response to this kind of extremely rare event.”
Lindow said the company will immediately comply with the DMV’s request. Before Tuesday’s decision, the company was allowed to have only 50 driverless vehicles on the roads during the day and 150 driverless vehicles in operation at night.
After Tuesday’s announcement, a Post reporter saw several Cruise cars around the city with humans in the drivers seat.
California’s decision this summer to allow Cruise and Waymo to operate their fleet as 24/7 paid robotaxi service was seen as a pivotal moment for the autonomous transportation industry. The move essentially allowed both companies to operate like another Uber and Lyft in the city — just without drivers.
But shortly after the expansion, Cruise was the subject of a string of incidents that infuriated residents and public officials.
In August, a driverless car entered the intersection of a green light and was struck by a firetruck on its way to an emergency scene. A passenger was treated at the scene for “nonsevere” injuries and Cruise said it was investigating the incident.
A few days prior, a car got stuck in wet concrete and had to be retrieved by a Cruise employee. Around the same time, several vehicles stalled in traffic in a busy intersection on a weekend night. The company blamed a music festival — which was roughly four miles away — for jamming up the signal in the area and delaying the response from the company to restart the vehicles.
Since driverless cars are regulated at the state level, city leaders here were frustrated at the lack of input they had in the decision and have since tried to appeal it.
David Zipper, visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, said the DMV’s decision to revoke Cruise’s permits should force California to rethink how it regulates the technology — and also prompt other cities to seriously consider whether they want the company operating on their streets.
“It’s pretty jarring to see California’s DMV deem Cruise to be unsafe just months after the state’s public utilities commission gave the company carte blanche to expand throughout San Francisco,” he said. “If their vehicles aren’t safe enough for California, are they safe enough for other states?”
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a frequent critic of the driverless cars, said the DMV’s decision was “better late than never.”
“San Francisco has long held that Cruise vehicles were not ready for prime time, and the state should never have allowed their unlimited deployment in the first place,” he said.
Heather Kelly contributed to this report.