The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into GM's autonomous vehicle division Cruise, after receiving reports of its robotaxis crashing or almost crashing into pedestrians.
According to a document released by the agency's Office of Defects Investigation this week, the reports involve Cruise robotaxis "encroaching on pedestrians present or entering roadways," including crosswalks near the intended travel path of the vehicles. This raises the risk of a Cruise robotaxi hitting a pedestrian, the NHTSA said, which could cause severe injury or death.
So far, the agency has received two reports involving pedestrian injuries and Cruise robotaxis, and has obtained videos of another two relevant incidents posted to social media. Fortunately, no fatal incidents have been reported, though there has been at least one close call. All told, it's the latest sign of friction between the narrative of safe self-driving cars and the messy reality when they hit public roads — though for its part, Cruise is downplaying the drama.
"Cruise's safety record over 5 million miles continues to outperform comparable human drivers at a time when pedestrian injuries and deaths are at an all-time high," a Cruise spokesperson said in a statement, as quoted by Fortune.
One of the incidents under investigation, which occurred earlier this month, is especially brutal. A pedestrian in San Francisco was struck by a human driver in a hit and run, knocking her into the path of a Cruise robotaxi which appeared to then run her over. GM claims that its self-driving vehicle slammed its brakes to "minimize the impact."
The details of that collision remain hazy, and as Cruise argues, it may have been impossible for the robotaxi to stop or swerve in time. Still, even when they aren't endangering pedestrians, it’s clear that the self-driving vehicles are causing their fair share of chaos on the streets they roam.
A major concern is how the robotaxis have repeatedly interfered with first responders. In February, a Cruise vehicle in San Francisco barreled its way through an active firefighting scene, forcing firefighters to smash its windshield to stop it. And in August, another robotaxi in the city slammed into a fire truck responding to a call.
Regular drivers haven't been loving sharing the streets with them, either. The robotaxis vehicles have caused traffic jams, and whole groups of them have, on more than one occasion, suddenly shut down in the middle of the road.
With all that bad PR in mind, an NHTSA investigation could be yet another costly setback for GM, which has lost billions of dollars on Cruise since 2018. We'll have to see how it will weather this latest storm.
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