The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been alerted of multiple incidents involving GM's Cruise self-driving cars. It comes as no surprise the safety regulator has decided to open an official probe into the "robotaxi" system. The vehicles in question are manufactured by GM (Chevrolet Bolt EVs), though the autonomous technology comes from the automaker's subsidiary, Cruise LLC.
As you may know, GM's Cruise cars are actually driving people around the streets of San Francisco. It's important to note that the project is currently limited to a small fleet of self-driving cars, and the service itself is limited. However, it's safe to say that these cars actually pick people up, with no safety driver present or any other company representative in the car. The Cruise vehicles then transport the passengers from Point A to Point B autonomously.
The company's COO Gil West told Reuters in the past that Cruise has a goal to enter many markets going forward. After entering a series of new markets in 2023, Cruise hopes to scale up to putting thousands of robotaxis on public roads.
According to Reuters, the reports received by the NHTSA claim that the Cruise robotaxis "may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized." The federal regulator noted that both the braking and the potential to become immobilized are separate matters, though they both can result in a robotaxi impeding other traffic. The initial probe will check out 242 GM Cruise robotaxis to determine if there are grounds for a recall.
The NHTSA will assess the two concerns with regard not only to what's causing them to happen, but also how often they may occur. The organization must also determine how long the immobilized vehicles typically remain "stuck," and what consequences there may be if this continues to happen.
Thus far, the NHTSA has already noted that the reported problems "may introduce multiple potential hazards such as a collision with a Cruise vehicle, risk to a stranded passenger exiting an immobilized Cruise vehicle, or obstruction of other traffic including emergency vehicles."
The NHTSA's investigation comes on the heels of three recent crashes. Rather than the robotaxi actually crashing, these incidents were caused by the Cruise cars stopping hard and being hit by another car in a rear-end collision. The company shared that the Cruise robotaxis did not receive a ticket.
GM's Cruise says it has driven some 700,000 miles without the help of a human driver. The drives have taken place in busy urban areas, and there have not been any serious injuries or deaths. Back in September, Cruise recalled 80 vehicles to provide necessary updates after a crash injured two people.