Federal safety agency probing Cruise autonomous vehicle incidents in San Francisco

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a formal probe into the operating system used by the Cruise autonomous service in San Francisco.

The General Motors-owned company operates a fleet of over 200 self-driving vehicles within the city in a ride-hailing service.

There have been several reported incidents of the vehicles exhibiting hard braking or becoming fully immobilized in the road, blocking traffic.

NHTSA said on Friday that while the issues "appear to be distinct, they each result in the Cruise vehicles becoming unexpected roadway obstacles."

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Cruise operates a fleet of over 200 Chevrolet Bolt EV-based vehicles. (Cruise)

Three hard braking incidents resulted in the Cruise vehicles being rear-ended. A Cruise spokesman told FOX Business that all involved vehicles had a supervisory human backup driver onboard and were responding to aggressive or erratic moves made by other vehicles. The company has already met with NHTSA to discuss the incidents and provide all relevant information.

"Cruise’s safety record is publicly reported and includes having driven nearly 700,000 fully autonomous miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities," said Cruise spokesman Drew Pusateri.

"This is against the backdrop of over 40,000 deaths each year on American roads. There’s always a balance between healthy regulatory scrutiny and the innovation we desperately need to save lives, which is why we’ll continue to fully cooperate with NHTSA or any regulator in achieving that shared goal."

The Cruise vehicles are equipped with a sensor array that includes lidar.  (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cruise has reported 29 accidents so far this year, most of which were minor and include bumping into other cars while parking.

NHTSA is also looking at the "frequency, duration and safety consequences associated with the vehicle immobilization incidents," several of which have been documented by bystanders on social media.

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The agency wants to determine what hazards are posed, including passengers being stranded and emergency vehicles being obstructed by the ensuing traffic created.

Cruise has started testing a purpose-designed autonomous vehicle called the Origin that features sliding doors, two rows of seats facing each other and no driver controls. (Cruise / Fox News)

Cruise said that the incidents were the result of its "minimal risk condition" policy, which immobilizes the vehicles and turns on their hazard lights when a significant fault is detected, and that none of them have caused any accidents to date.

In September, Cruise voluntarily recalled and updated the software for its vehicles to improve its operation following a collision in June that was investigated by NHTSA.

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Cruise recently announced plans to expand the service's operation to Austin, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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