The immediate suspension of Cruise’s testing permit in California has sent shockwaves through the global self-driving industry, with the freewheeling US approach to roll-out under more scrutiny than at any time since the Uber ATG moment in 2018.
The full 24 October 2023 statement by The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) read: “Public safety remains the California DMV’s top priority, and the department’s autonomous vehicle regulations provide a framework to facilitate the safe testing and deployment of this technology on California public roads. When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits. There is no set time for a suspension.
“The California DMV today notified Cruise that the department is suspending Cruise’s autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing permits, effective immediately. 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. This decision does not impact the company’s permit for testing with a safety driver.”
It went on to highlight four serious issues under consideration:
- Based upon the performance of the vehicles, the Department determines the manufacturer’s vehicles are not safe for the public’s operation.
- The manufacturer has misrepresented any information related to safety of the autonomous technology of its vehicles.
- Any act or omission of the manufacturer or one of its agents, employees, contractors, or designees which the department finds makes the conduct of autonomous vehicle testing on public roads by the manufacturer an unreasonable risk to the public.
- The department shall immediately suspend or revoke the Manufacturer’s Testing Permit or a Manufacturer’s Testing Permit – Driverless Vehicles if a manufacturer is engaging in a practice in such a manner that immediate suspension is required for the safety of persons on a public road.
The suspension comes just weeks after a Cruise car struck a pedestrian following a hit-and-run by a human-driven vehicle – an incident the DMV was urgently investigating.
Cruise responded: “We will be pausing operations of our driverless AVs in San Francisco. Ultimately, we develop and deploy autonomous vehicles in an effort to save lives. Our teams are currently doing an analysis to identify potential enhancements to the AV’s response to this kind of extremely rare event.”
Cruise is owned by General Motors (GM), with CEO Mary Barra predicting earlier this year that it “could generate $50 billion a year in annual revenue by 2030”.
However, the California roll-out has many vocal critics, including the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).
“Despite the propaganda pushed by tech executives, Cruise has shown the world that robots are incapable of even coming close to achieving the high standards human operators meet each and every day,” said TWU President, John Samuelsen.
It is hard to overstate how serious this is for self-driving in the US. Two weeks ago, leading industry voices were fighting Cruise’s corner.
For instance, Alex Roy, founder of Johnson & Roy, which advises “global clients whose mission is to improve the safety, experience, and sustainability of technology and mobility in service of humanity”, was highly critical of the NY Post headline “Self-driving car mows down woman, leaving her trapped underneath vehicle”. Yesterday, he said on Linkedin: “I might have been wrong in coming to Cruise’s defense”.
We recently interviewed AV safety expert Philip Koopman about the contrasting UK and US approaches to roll-out. We’ll bring you that very soon.
For now, Koopman had this to say on Linkedin: “I am becoming convinced that this is Cruise’s “Uber ATG moment”. In 2018 an Uber ATG test vehicle killed a pedestrian, due in large part due to an inadequate safety culture. That event triggered a profound safety culture transformation within the company, allowing them to continue development downstream. That legacy lives on in Aurora, the company that acquired much of the team. The question is whether Cruise will undergo a similar transformation, or will double down on a non-viable scale-at-any-cost strategy. So far, publicly observable signs are not promising.”