Following Cruise LLC’s filing of a report with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, information on a collision June 3 in San Francisco between an autonomous Cruise vehicle and a Toyota Prius has come to light.
Occupants of both vehicles received minor injuries from the collision, which happened at 11 p.m. near the intersection of Geary Boulevard and Spruce Street, according to the DMV report and Automotive News. The weather at the time was clear.
The report states a Cruise Autonomous Vehicle was traveling east on Geary Boulevard toward the intersection with Spruce Street while in driverless autonomous mode. It activated its left turn signal as it moved into the left turn lane. The Cruise AV began to turn left when a westbound Toyota Prius reached the right turn lane but continued straight while traveling at 40 mph in a 25-mph zone.
The Cruise AV spotted the oncoming vehicle as it drove straight out of the turn lane, stopping in the middle of its left turn. The Prius collided with the rear passenger side of the vehicle, damaging the right rear door panel and wheel of the Cruise AV.
A police report was submitted by Cruise after calling the police and emergency medical services. But the report’s details have not been independently verified.
In the future, as vehicle-to-vehicle communication is developed and deployed, such accidents may be avoidable.
Ironically, the crash occurred the day after the California Public Utilities Commission handed Cruise the first permit of its kind in the state to charge fares for passenger transportation available to the general public on specific San Francisco streets without a human safety driver on duty.
“The California Public Utilities Commission’s diligent work on the Autonomous Vehicle Program is creating an innovative path to improved public safety, accessible and equitable transportation, and benefits to the environment,” said Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma in a statement at the time.
Not the first incident
It’s not the first problems involving Cruise vehicles.
A group of driverless Cruise cars blocked traffic in San Francisco June 28, with a witness saying more than a dozen AVs were involved in the bottleneck, which persisted until personnel were brought in to remove the vehicles. Other incidents involved one of the company’s AVs blocked the path of a San Francisco Fire Department truck in April, while in another incident, a Cruise AV was seen traveling at night without turning on its headlights.
Despite such incidents, overall confidence in automated automobiles is growing, according to the J.D. Power 2021 Mobility Confidence Index Study, released in November 2021. Of those surveyed, 42% expressed confidence in fully automated self-driving vehicles, up from 34% in 2020.
Autonomy has a high standard to beat
But we can expect more accidents on the way to an accident-free AV future.
In fact, federal safety regulators announced Thursday they’ve opened an investigation into a pedestrian fatality involving a 2018 Tesla Model 3. Tesla’s been the subject of more than two dozen queries into its semi-autonomous driving technology.
“There are 1.25 million fatalities per year worldwide; that’s an extraordinarily high number; around 30,000 of those happen every year in the U.S., also a very high number,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute. “But if you work out fatalities per mile, it’s 1 fatality per 100 million miles in the U.S.”
In a 2016 interview at M.I.T., Pratt explained the hurdles that autonomous vehicles have to overcome.
“That’s how good car autonomy needs to be to beat people,” he added.
Pratt said people are really good at driving safely.
“You can be on a two-lane highway with nothing but a double yellow line in the middle, going at a combined speed versus each other at 120-140 mph, separated by an incredibly short distance, and we think nothing of it. We’re trusting the other person coming the other way not to run into us. And yet it works incredibly well.”
The anomalies of the Prius’s driver are the hardest sort of situations for autonomous vehicles to reconcile. Software that can properly respond to such situations is the most difficult challenge for autonomous vehicle companies, including Cruise.
At best, it should be considered a momentary hiccup.
Cruise LLC, an autonomous vehicle company majority owned by GM, has been testing self-driving taxis in San Francisco for several years, and is hoping to build 1 million self-driving vehicles by 2030. The company was the first to receive permission from regulators in California to provide a driverless AV Taxi service.
Cruise is permitted to provide passenger service to the general public using 30 vehicles on a limited number of San Francisco streets between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Cruise AVs are restricted to a top speed of 30 mph, operating when the weather does not include heavy rain, heavy fog, heavy smoke, hail, sleet or snow.
Cruise isn’t the only company developing driverless taxis.
Waymo, Argo AI and other companies also provide driverless trips in some cities in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states. They are unable to charge a fee for using the service, however.