DETROIT (AP) – United States (US) safety regulators are investigating reports that autonomous robotaxis run by General Motors’ Cruise LLC can stop too quickly or unexpectedly quit moving, potentially stranding passengers.
Three rear-end collisions that reportedly took place after Cruise autonomous vehicles braked hard kicked off the probe, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). At the time, robotaxis were staffed by human safety drivers.
The agency also has multiple reports of Cruise robotaxis without human safety drivers becoming immobilised in San Francisco traffic, possibly stranding passengers and blocking lanes.
The reports of immobilised vehicles came from discussions with Cruise, media reports and local authorities, NHTSA said in an investigation document posted on Friday on its website.
There have been two reports of injuries related to the hard braking, including a bicyclist seriously hurt last March, according to the NHTSA crash database.
NHTSA said it will determine how often the problems happen and potential safety issues they cause. The probe, which covers an estimated 242 Cruise autonomous vehicles, could bring a recall. “With these data, NHTSA can respond to safety concerns involving these technologies through further investigation and enforcement,” the agency said in a statement.
Cruise Chief Executive Officer Kyle Vogt told The Associated Press that the company is fully cooperating with the NHTSA. “I am happy to help educate them on the safety of our products,” Vogt said during a Friday interview. “Regulators are doing their job. They are scrutinising things as they should, asking lots of questions.” So far, Cruise vehicles have driven nearly early 700,000 autonomous miles in San Francisco without causing any life-threatening injuries or deaths.
“This is against the backdrop of over 40,000 deaths each year on American roads,” Cruise spokesman Drew Pusateri wrote in a statement. “There’s always a balance between healthy regulatory scrutiny and the innovation we desperately need to save lives.”
He said police didn’t issue tickets in any of the crashes, and that in each case, the autonomous vehicle was responding to aggressive or erratic behaviour of other road users.
“The AV was working to minimise collision severity and risk of harm,” Pusateri wrote.
In the clogged traffic incidents, Pusateri wrote that whenever Cruise technology isn’t extremely confident in moving, it’s designed to be conservative, turning on hazard lights and coming to a safe stop.