Self-driving car company Cruise has halted driverless car operations nationwide, including in Austin, in an effort to rebuild public trust around the technology.
The California-based company, which is a subsidiary of General Motors, announced the change Thursday evening in a post on X, formerly Twitter. The announcement came just two days after the company paused services in California after the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended the company’s testing and deployment permits.
The suspended permits followed a high-profile incident and spat between the California department and the self-driving company after the DMV accused the company of withholding information about a hit-and-run incident earlier this month, an accusation the company denied, according to a report from USAToday. The permit suspension only impacted the company’s ability to operate fully autonomously. Cruise can still test with a human safety driver.
More:Cruise’s self-driving car operations cease in California
On Thursday evening, the company said it was proactively pausing driverless operations across its other locations. Cruise, which has been offering driverless rideshare in Austin since last year, also offers rideshare services in Houston and Phoenix, and previously San Francisco.
“The most important thing for us right now is to take steps to rebuild public trust. Part of this involves taking a hard look inwards and at how we do work at Cruise, even if it means doing things that are uncomfortable or difficult,” the company posted. “In that spirit, we have decided to proactively pause driverless operations across all of our fleets while we take time to examine our processes, systems, and tools and reflect on how we can better operate in a way that will earn public trust.”
The company also clarified in the same post thread that the decision was not related to any new on-road incidents and that supervised autonomous vehicle operations will continue.
““We think it’s the right thing to do during a period when we need to be extra vigilant when it comes to risk, relentlessly focused on safety, & taking steps to rebuild public trust,” the company said.
Friday morning, a Cruise spokesperson confirmed rideshare was paused in Austin. The Cruise app also read “We’ve temporarily paused our service,” with an option to be notified once it restarted.
Cruise’s operations in Austin
Cruise first announced it would expand to Austin in September 2022 and began offering fully autonomous rideshare services in December. Its rideshare service operates similarly to other rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft where users are able to request a ride in Cruise’s app and then be picked up and dropped off at specific locations. In Austin, Cruise has been operating in select areas of downtown, Central and East Austin between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. with plans to expand over time.
But the company has also been subject of an increasing number of viral videos in Austin in recent months showing the vehicles in traffic jams and stopped in intersections, leading people, including City Council member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri, to raise concerns about the company’s operations in Austin.
During a City of Austin Mobility Committee meeting on Friday, Qadri said he was pleased to hear that Cruise decided to suspend their operations.
“I’ve said from the beginning that I don’t think this technology is ready for primetime,” he said.
He pointed to Cruise’s tendency to avoid larger streets, special events, higher volume traffic and inclement weather.
“That tells us the company didn’t have enough faith in their own technology to operate in the basic urban driving conditions humans deal with every single day,” Qadri said.
Qadri, along with Council Members Paige Ellis and Vanessa Fuentes, received a briefing on self-driving vehicle activity Friday afternoon during the committee meeting.
All three council members expressed concerns related to public safety, complaints from the community and the city’s inability to regulate the vehicles.
“It’s important for autonomous vehicle companies to realize that these driverless cars can be dangerous and that our public roads should not be a test playground,” Ellis said. “We should not be treated like guinea pigs.”
What incident occurred in California?
The California DMV announced in a Tuesday statement that it was suspending the permitting for an indefinite amount of time, saying it has the ability to pull permits when there is “an unreasonable risk to public safety.”
The DMV’s dispute with the company relates to an Oct. 2 hit and run incident, after which the DMV accused Cruise of withholding information about.
In a statement Tuesday, Cruise said the hit-and-run incident occurred when a human driver of a Nissan Sentra collided with a pedestrian who was crossing the street against a red light. The pedestrian was then launched in front of a Cruise autonomous vehicle, which braked but “still made contact with the pedestrian” and pulled over after stopping, “pulling the individual forward approximately 20 feet.” The unknown driver of the Nissan fled the scene.
The California DMV accused Cruise of not disclosing or showing full footage of the incident, including its pullover maneuver, according to the USAToday report. Cruise denied that it omitted information, the report said.
Cruise is also the subject of a new federal probe from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that aims to determine if the self-driving vehicles are using appropriate precautions around pedestrians after the Oct. 2 incident and another unrelated incident.
What other companies are testing self-driving technology in Austin?
Cruise is far from the only autonomous car company testing in Austin. The region, which has been a testbed of self-driving technology, is currently being used by Waymo and Volkswagen to test its vehicles.
The city was also previously being used by Ford and Argo AI to test self-driving technology including rideshare and delivery services, before Argo AI shut down last year.
Under a state law that passed in 2017, autonomous vehicles can operate in Texas without a driver inside and can be used on highways as long as they can follow traffic laws. The cars also are required to have insurance like other cars and be equipped with video recording equipment. Manufacturers are considered responsible for any broken laws or collisions.
Under a separate state law, passed in 2021, political subdivisions of the state, such as cities, are also forbidden from regulating automated driving systems or automated motor systems.
USA Today reporter Bailey Schulz contributed to this report.