We asked Cruise what happened on June 30 and got no response. TechCrunch also reached the company and heard back that Cruise “had an issue,” which is pretty generic and evident: nobody would ask them about problems if it did not have more than five cars blocking a street.
“In light of the coverage of dozens of vehicles being stuck on the roads of San Francisco on June 28 (now on Techcrunch and Hacker News) I wanted to share that I wrote about this in an email to the CPUC in mid-May, a couple weeks before their vote on allowing Cruise to charge fares within a limited area of San Francisco.
As of now, I have not received any response from the CPUC except for an auto-reply indicating that my message was received. I am not sharing the full message here because outside the original context of communicating with a regulatory agency it may violate the terms of my NDA to share some of the information in the message.
To summarize the message, it specifies the nature of ‘Vehicle Retrieval Events’ such as the ones that occurred on June 28, June 20, and multiple times before then that may result in dozens of vehicles blocking public roads until they are physically retrieved, and why I believe these events will occur frequently for the foreseeable future including when hours of operation of the driverless fleet are expanded to include morning and evening rush hour times. Aside from the obvious problems with large numbers of vehicles blocking traffic, one of the more concerning possibilities is these vehicles blocking emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks.I subjectively find Cruise to be a highly chaotic environment where safety related discussion is routinely discouraged because it contradicts the leadership's narrative, ‘is a distraction’, and ‘lowers morale’, the second two being direct quotes I have heard spoken by management and leadership at the company.
I'm glad that this issue is getting more attention, and for the sake of the safety of San Francisco residents, I hope that Cruise and regulators such as the CPUC both take the appropriate steps to ensure public safety.
Note: I am not going to verify my employment status because I don't have a good way to do that without doxxing myself and risking being fired and possibly facing legal action. If you think I'm just a troll, I'm okay with that.”
According to Philip Koopman, “this is yet another symptom that they have removed a backup driver from their vehicles too early. They are trying to downplay it.” The autonomous vehicle safety expert and associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University also told autoevolution that “many serious loss events are preceded by a number of seemingly small warning events. At this point, we have ample warning events that Cruise should still have backup drivers in their vehicles.”
The trigger for the NHTSA investigation shows that Koopman may have hit the nail on the head. On June 3 – the same day the autonomous vehicle company got the permit to offer commercial autonomous driving ride-hailing services in San Francisco – a Cruise vehicle “was traveling eastbound on Geary Boulevard toward the intersection with Spruce Street.” Notice that everything happens around Geary Street and Geary Boulevard.
The Cruise vehicle stopped before completing the left turn when it detected the Toyota was heading its way. The Prius eventually hit Cruise's Bolt EV on the right rear door, damaging the door and the right rear wheel of the robotaxi, which had to be towed. Occupants in both vehicles had minor injuries.
Cruise confirmed to TechCrunch that NHTSA opened the investigation about its activities and that it is collaborating with authorities. Regardless of the results, this crash shows the interaction between autonomous vehicles and real drivers is something that needs to be perfected. Having backup drivers in Cruise vehicles may be necessary to avoid new collisions and street blocking in the future, as Koopman recommended.
To add to a night of technical oddities there are three Cruise vehicles, all (literally) driverless, stuck at and partially blocking the corner of Geary and Mason ???? pic.twitter.com/ypBze8nrnW— Smerity (@Smerity) June 21, 2022