General Motors is in big trouble with its “CRUISE” autonomous vehicle division operating in San Francisco, as California authorities have decided to reduce the driverless cab fleet following a road accident caused by a driverless cab.
An accident on the night of August 17, 2023, involving an autonomous cab from Cruise came into hard contact with a Californian emergency vehicle, injuring its passenger, sparking a new debate on the safety of driverless cars. “Cruise’s autonomous vehicle correctly identified the risk of collision and initiated braking action, reducing its speed, but was ultimately unable to avoid the collision,” lamented a Cruise executive in a blog post published the day after the accident.
The General Motors subsidiary is facing a difficult situation, and the time has come for crisis communications. Less than two weeks ago, Cruise and Waymo (an Alphabet subsidiary) obtained an extension to their licence to operate driverless cabs in San Francisco.
In the wake of recent events, the market on which the company has staked so much is no longer a given. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has ordered Cruise to halve its fleet of cabs, at least while an investigation is underway.
Cruise announced to the American media outlet TechCrunch its willingness to comply with the decision. After extolling the virtues of autonomous driving as a means of reducing the risk of road accidents, the General Motors subsidiary is keen to show its credentials. It will have to operate no more than 50 driverless vehicles during the day and 150 at night until the California DMV has completed its investigation. For its part, the authority said it would ensure the “safe operation of autonomous vehicles and [the] safety of the public who share the road with these vehicles.”
Last week’s accident shows that the presence of numerous emergency vehicles, sometimes forced to exceed the driving rules imposed on private individuals, must be better anticipated by autonomous vehicles. Moments before the California Public Utilities Commission’s vote in favor of Cruise and Waymo’s cab expansion, San Francisco firefighters had voiced their concerns. “Our employees can’t pay attention to an autonomous vehicle when we have ladders to throw,” commented Jeanine Nicholson, their manager.
The next few days will therefore be decisive for Cruise and, to a lesser extent, its rival Waymo, which is also suffering from the tarnished image of autonomous vehicles. The fate of their business now rests on the ongoing investigation by the Californian authorities.