California Regulator Cracks Down on Self-Driving Taxis in San Francisco
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has taken action against the presence of self-driving taxis in San Francisco, just days after approving their expansion. This move seems to reflect concerns about the reliability of the technology.
The DMV announced on Sunday that General Motors’ robo-taxi service Cruise must reduce its fleet of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco by half. This decision comes shortly after state agencies granted them permission to expand their operations without limitations. The fleet reduction was prompted by a recent incident where one of Cruise’s vehicles collided with an emergency vehicle, highlighting the challenges that autonomous vehicles face on city streets.
Investigating Safety Concerns
The DMV stated that it is currently investigating these “concerning” incidents involving Cruise vehicles. Both the automotive operator and law enforcement are cooperating in this initiative.
Cruise has acknowledged their collaboration with the DMV but has framed the crashes as part of the everyday risks of driving.
“Every day, over one hundred people lose their lives on American roadways, and countless others are seriously injured,” said Hannah Lindow, a Cruise spokeswoman. “We firmly believe that Cruise has a positive impact on overall road safety. We look forward to working with the CA DMV to make any necessary improvements and provide them with the data they need to reinforce the safety and efficiency of our fleet.”
Reducing Accidents, Not Eliminating Them
Vahid Behzadan, a data and computer science professor at the University of New Haven, explains that the goal of self-driving cars is not to completely eliminate accidents but to reduce their frequency.
Behzadan, who conducts research on safety and security through AI-powered tools, suggests that the challenges faced by autonomous vehicles may stem from blind spots and the complexities of quickly interpreting changing situations, such as the presence of emergency vehicles or speeding cars. If not addressed, these challenges can put the vehicles in dangerous situations.
Expanding Fleet, Increasing Risks
The California Public Utilities Commission authorized autonomous companies like Cruise and Waymo to expand their fleet of vehicles on August 10. As a result, more self-driving cars flooded the streets, leading to an increase in risky driving decisions.
In the days following the CPUC vote, at least three crashes were reported. One incident involved a fire engine colliding with a Cruise vehicle at an intersection while responding to an emergency. Another crash occurred when a car ran a red light and hit a Cruise vehicle. Additionally, a third vehicle got stuck in wet concrete in a construction area on the Golden Gate.
Other incidents included nearly a dozen Cruise vehicles causing disruptions during a San Francisco music festival. Firefighters even had to break the windows of driverless cars to clear the way.
It remains uncertain if Cruise can effectively address all the potential dangers its vehicles encounter on a daily basis, according to Behzadan. Furthermore, public trust in self-driving cars appears to be low, with over 70% of people expressing fear of autonomous vehicles, as revealed by an AAA poll conducted in March.
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