Public records and internal emails obtained by 404 Media have revealed that the federal government has absolutely no idea how many civilians have been hit by Cruise's driverless vehicles, which it recently paused in entirely following multiple pedestrian collisions and the troubling revelation that Cruise deployed the cars knowing they particularly struggled to identify children.
But as 404 reports, prior to the full recall of Cruise's fleet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had already launched a "preliminary investigation" into the carmaker. In a now-infamous incident, one of the cars had dragged a pedestrian in San Francisco; as a result, California ordered Cruise to stop operating in the state, and the NHTSA looksie kicked off shortly thereafter.
Looking at that report, though, it's unclear what the NHTSA has really been able to find. In official public records, the federal roadway overseer notes that "currently, the total number of relevant pedestrian incidents is unknown." And for the agency tasked with overseeing self-driving vehicles, you have to admit that's pretty weird.
In email correspondence obtained by 404, San Francisco city officials note that the online system for reporting roadway incidents is flawed to the point that civilians couldn't really even report dangerous brushes with self-driving cars through official channels if they wanted to — something you'd think the city would've figured out before letting the experimental driver-free cars onto public roads.
VIN, No Diesel
The problem with the city's web portal, as responsible local authorities laid out in the leaked email correspondence, lies in the very structure of the form itself.
"The problem is that you have to enter the VIN number" — a unique code, stamped on the inside of a vehicle, that effectively acts like the individual car's fingerprint — "in order to get through the logic of the form," Julia Friedlander, senior manager of automated driving policy at San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency, reportedly wrote to colleagues in an email with the very blatant subject line: "Pedestrian Incidents."
"Obviously, members of the public have no access to this information as to for-hire AVs," Friedlander added, correctly. "The only other obvious option is to call their telephone hotline — something few people today would do."
The only other sort-of-relevant form that a pedestrian could use to report an incident would be one titled "other vehicle-related equipment," but that category notes that it should be used for products like "bike racks, windshield wipers, motorcycle helmets," and so on. None of these aftermarket items exactly scream "entire driverless vehicle," however, meaning that the experimental autonomous cars exist in a paperwork no man's land.
The report is incredibly embarrassing for both the city of San Francisco and the NHTSA, both of which should absolutely have ensured that the above safety systems were up-to-code before Cruise cars hit the roadways. Better luck next time — if there is one.
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