Just one day after California transportation regulators granted Cruise a landmark permit to commercialize self-driving technology, one of the company’s self-driving cars was involved in a crash that resulted in multiple injuries. The crash occurred on the evening of June 3 in San Francisco, when a Cruise car in self-driving mode turned left at the intersection of Geary Boulevard and Spruce Street in front of an oncoming Toyota Prius, and the two vehicles subsequently collided.
Cruise’s report to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) shows that the occupants of both vehicles suffered injuries, Todd Brugger, Cruise’s vice president of global marketing, wrote in the report that police and emergency medical services treated the occupants and “reported that the occupants of both vehicles were slight injuries.”
Cruise, which had received an investment from General Motors, said its self-driving vehicle stopped in its lane before completing a left turn and was stationary when it was hit.
The company provided further statements in its filing regarding the interpretation of the location and behavior of the Toyota Prius, which was driven by a human driver, stating that the Prius was speeding and that it was continuing straight ahead in the right-turn lane.
But those details could not be independently verified. A spokeswoman for the San Francisco Police Department could not locate an incident report related to Wednesday’s crash and said it’s possible no report was generated about the crash.
On Wednesday, a Cruise spokeswoman declined to say why the car stopped before completing the turn.
Although Cruise’s vehicle may have been stationary at the time of the accident, Carnegie Mellon University professor and autonomous vehicle safety expert Phil Koopman said investigators still need more information to assess the behavior of the human driver and the self-driving software in the collision.
Many people are upset and sometimes cursing at drivers who cut in front of them and then pull off the road,” he said. There are a lot of unknowns in this accident. For example, we don’t know if the Prius driver intended to turn right, but then swerved to try to avoid a collision with a stationary vehicle.”
Cruise said in its mandatory report that the crash occurred while the vehicle was in “driverless mode. A company spokesperson declined to provide more specific information, such as whether one or more occupants of the self-driving car were or were not crew members or employees.
Although the accident occurred more than a month ago, details surrounding it did not emerge until this week.
The accident occurred just one day after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowed Cruise to open its paid self-driving taxi service to the public without a human safety driver present under certain conditions, the first such permit issued in the state.
CPUC Chair Alice Reynolds said in a written statement at the time, “This is an exciting milestone for the self-driving car program.”
The paid service had not yet begun to be available to the public at the time of the June 3 crash, but Cruise had been offering free rides to select customers in the months prior.
A spokeswoman for the California DMV, which oversees the state’s self-driving car program, said officials from the agency have spoken with Cruise executives since the accident. The CPUC did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
As Koopman noted, the crash raises questions about the interplay between humans and self-driving software and how they communicate their respective intentions to each other. In addition, Cruise declined to say whether its vehicles were equipped with side airbags or side air curtains and, if so, whether they deployed successfully in the crash. In the crash, the Prius struck the rear passenger side of the self-driving vehicle.
In addition to the June 3 crash, the company’s self-driving cars have previously been involved in a series of accidents in San Francisco.
On June 28, multiple Cruise self-driving cars gathered at a city intersection, blocking traffic for several hours. The incident was not resolved until a human driver removed the vehicles. At the time, a company spokesman blamed the blockage on a “technical issue,” but he didn’t elaborate on what kind of technical issue.
In April, one of the company’s self-driving cars blocked the path of a San Francisco Fire Department truck heading to a fire, an incident that city officials later told the CPUC slowed down the fire’s processing and led to injuries. Also in April, a San Francisco police officer stopped a Cruise car for driving at night without its headlights on and the vehicle in question for running a light.
Koopman said these incidents in general show that self-driving technology still has a lot of problems to solve. Everything about autonomous driving is very concerning,” he said. In this case in particular, a brief reading of the accident report reveals a number of very troubling things. The blame should be on Cruise and they need to prove that their vehicles are still capable of operating safely.”