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Robotaxi firm Cruise ordered to halve fleet following incidents

Autonomous car company Cruise has been told by regulators to halve its robotaxi fleet in San Francisco following a crash with a fire truck on Thursday in which the driverless car’s passenger suffered minor injuries.

The regulator — the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) — said that it’s looking into “recent concerning incidents” involving self-driving Cruise cars operating on the city’s public roads.

The decision comes just days after California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which oversees commercial passenger services, made a landmark decision when it voted to allow Cruise and another leading operator of driverless cars — Waymo — to expand their paid ridesharing services in the city to all hours of the day instead of just quieter periods.

The DMV’s request means General Motors-backed Cruise will now operate no more than 50 autonomous vehicles during the day and 150 at night until further notice.

“Safety of the traveling public is the California DMV’s top priority,” the state regulator said in a release shared on Friday evening, adding that it was looking at other “recent concerning incidents involving Cruise vehicles in San Francisco.”

Cruises’ San Francisco general manager Greg Dietrerich said in a post on Friday that the company’s “primary concern remains with our passenger and their well-being. We have been in contact to offer support and will remain in touch.”

Discussing the crash, he noted that there were “many aspects that looked typical from the autonomous vehicle’s perspective and several factors that added complexity to this specific incident.”

Dietrerich said that the intersection where the crash took place is hard for both humans and autonomous driving systems to view clearly, adding that while the Cruise car was successfully tracking the fire truck, its path “was complicated by the fact that the emergency vehicle was in the oncoming lane of traffic, which it had moved into to bypass the red light.”

The Cruise AV identified the risk of a collision and initiated a braking maneuver that reduced its speed, “but was ultimately unable to avoid the collision,” Dietrerich said.

Defending Cruise’s technology, he noted that during more than 3 million miles of fully autonomous driving in the city, its self-driving cars have seen “an enormous number” of emergency vehicles, adding: “We realize that we’ll always encounter challenging situations, which is why continuous improvement is central to our work.”

The incident is the latest in a growing number of blunders involving self-driving cars operated by Cruise and Waymo in San Francisco, with both companies retaining the hope of launching fully fledged robotaxi services in more cities in the coming years.

Only last week, a Waymo car had to be hauled back onto the street after becoming stuck in wet concrete. In another incident, a Cruise vehicle was involved in a low-speed collision when it became confused by the movement of an articulated bus. Other incidents have involved numerous Waymo cars visiting one particular dead-end street, while others have become confused while driving in the city’s famous fog.

Last week’s decision by the CPUC flew in the face of recent calls by San Francisco officials to slow the expansion of robotaxi testing until the technology is further improved.

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Trevor Mogg
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