One of the two companies operating driverless taxis in San Francisco will no longer be able to do so, after the DMV has suspended their permit allowing them to take passengers without a test driver present.
Two months after the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered GM-owned Cruise to cuts its San Francisco fleet in half — following a couple of concerning incidents — the DMV has come back and suspended driverless operations altogether.
"Public safety remains the California DMV’s top priority, and the department’s autonomous vehicle regulations provide a framework to facilitate the safe testing and deployment of this technology on California public roads," the DMV said in a statement Tuesday. "When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits."
"The DMV has provided Cruise with the steps needed to apply to reinstate its suspended permits, which the DMV will not approve until the company has fulfilled the requirements to the department’s satisfaction," the department says.
The Chronicle first reported on the DMV's move, noting that the department has concluded "the manufacturer’s vehicles are not safe for the public’s operation."
Today's decision does not mean that Cruise vehicles will disappear from SF streets. The company is still allowed to continue testing its vehicles, both with and without passengers present, as long as a test driver is behind the wheel.
And this leaves Alphabet-owned Waymo, for the time being, as the only company that is permitted to take passengers on driverless rides.
Both Cruise and Waymo have been taking passengers on free and paid rides around the city on a limited basis for over a year, but they were only given the go-ahead to operate at all hours in August, by the CA Public Utilities Commission. It was only days later that a gaggle of Cruise vehicles caused a traffic problem on a busy Friday night in North Beach, and less than a week later a Cruise vehicle had allegedly nosed too far into an intersection when a speeding fire engine was trying to pass, leading to a collision that left a female passenger injured.
Since then, we have also learned of two Cruise vehicles allegedly getting in the way of an ambulance in a situation in which one man died from traumatic injuries. And on October 2, a Cruise vehicle was involved in a gruesome incident in which a female pedestrian crossing against a light was reportedly struck by another car and then was run over by the Cruise car, which proceeded to stop short while still on top of the victim.
Last week, following that last incident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was launching a probe into how these autonomous vehicles behave around pedestrians.
Cruise has maintained that its vehicles were not responsible in any of these incidents, and that their self-driving software remains far safer than any human driver.
Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt went on to say at TechCrunch Disrupt that San Francisco ought to be "rolling out the red carpet" for autonomous vehicles, rather than complaining about them or focusing on these incidents.
"We cannot expect perfection; there still will be collisions," Vogt said. "I see this as the beginning of a conversation with regulators, with city officials, on the reality that these vehicles are here."