General Motors’ autonomous vehicle company Cruise can’t shake the safety scrutiny over its driverless robotaxis. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is digging into whether or not these AVs are safe for the pedestrians being forced to live with them.
Cops Pull Over Self-Driving Car
The NHTSA’s Office of Defects opened an investigation into Cruise on Monday. A report summary claims the administration received reports of injuries caused by Cruise robotaxis. The office says it identified two relevant incidents of pedestrians based on videos posted online.
Regulators cite the problem as “Cruise Automated Driving System (ADS) equipped vehicles may not be exercising appropriate caution around pedestrians in the roadway.”
The exact locations and addresses of the two incidents are redacted, but both occurred in San Francisco at intersections on streets with a posted 25 MPH speed limit. Both involved a pedestrian walking into the crosswalk after the intersection light turned green. One of the driverless vehicles was going 1.4 mph and made contact with the pedestrian. Police and medical services were called to the scene and the pedestrian was taken away by EMS.
The other incident involved a person who walked across the street as a light was turning green. A separate driver made contact with the pedestrian which then “deflected” them in front of the AV. The Cruise car braked hard but still made contact with the pedestrian. The other driver ran off after the collision, and the unnamed person was taken away by medical services.
Both incidents cited by the investigation seem like anything that can happen on the road with regular, human-driven vehicles, but the investigation is reviewing if there are any potential safety issues with these driverless cars. There have been several other reported incidents of AVs hitting pedestrians circulating in the news. Still, it turned out that one initial report that a Cruise vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian was actually caused by a city bus.
“Cruise’s safety record over 5 million miles continues to outperform comparable human drivers at a time when pedestrian injuries and deaths are at an all-time high,” said Cruise spokesperson Hannah Lindow in an emailed statement. “Cruise communicates regularly with NHTSA and has consistently cooperated with each of NHTSA’s requests for information –– whether associated with an investigation or not –– and we plan to continue doing so.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been software issues that have resulted in injuries. In September last year, the GM-backed Cruise recalled 80 vehicles from its fleet after an AV performed an unprotected left turn, leading to a crash that reportedly caused two injuries. Cruise now claims that its fleet of cars has been involved in far fewer collisions than human-operated vehicles.
Cruise and fellow robotaxi company, the Google-backed Waymo, received huge boons from the State of California to expand their efforts in San Francisco, despite protests from both city officials and citizens. Both companies are now allowed to let driverless AVs out at all hours of the day. After that expansion, Cruise was hit with some bad news after one of its fleet got stuck in wet cement. Other Cruise vehicles were found stalling traffic in the middle of an intersection while another hit a fire truck, though the latter had a safety driver involved.
Cruise currently operates in several cities other than San Francisco, including Phoenix, Arizona as well as Austin and Houston, Texas. It also began to open up services in states across the U.S. from Washington to North Carolina. Even if Cruise can prove it has an impeccable safety record, at least in terms of numbers, pedestrians might still be concerned when there’s no human behind the wheel if the AI piloting the AVs goes wrong.