Cruise Robotaxi Drives Into Wet Cement, More Mishaps With Fire Trucks

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The robotaxi situation in California continues to get more ridiculous after additional reports of autonomous test vehicles doing something incredibly stupid. One of the driverless Chevrolet Bolts operated by Cruise apparently drove through a construction zone last week, stranding itself in wet cement. This was followed by news of yet another unsavory encounter involving a Cruise AV and an emergency response vehicle just days later.

Saying the company is fighting an uphill public relations battle would be putting it mildly.

While self-driving technologies border on the miraculous when they work, the magic dissipates when they behave erratically and no company seems to have figured out how to make these systems wholly reliable or adaptive to certain roadway conditions a sober human operator would have no trouble navigating.

But it’s not for a lack of trying. Both General Motors’ Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo are struggling to remain popular in San Francisco after being allowed to operate within the city to better test their vehicles — even getting permission from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to expand their operations earlier in the month.

However, the decision has placed local officials at odds with state regulators. They came out to advise the CPUC not to approve any autonomous vehicle expansions by providing a year’s worth of crash data and voicing their concerns. The San Francisco Fire Department seems particularly annoyed and has accused the vehicles of failing to get out of the way in emergency situations. Meanwhile, a subset of residents voiced fears that AVs aren’t nearly as safe as the companies operating them claim and remain concerned that their implementation ultimately serves to take away jobs from human drivers.

There’s even a group of local activists who have been going around placing road cones on the hood of stopped Waymo and Cruise vehicles — effectively disabling them.

While Waymo’s public relations headaches seemed to be focused in Arizona, Cruise embarrassments seem most frequent in California. But neither brand appears to be making new fans in San Francisco. There have just been too many high-profile incidents.

The most recent involves a Cruise robotaxi in San Francisco colliding with an SFPD truck. According to a post for the company’s social media account, the accident took place on the night of August 17th when one of its vehicles “entered the intersection on a green light and was struck by an emergency vehicle that appeared to be en route to an emergency scene.”

CNBC reported that a passenger was taken to the hospital and was believed to have sustained “non-severe injuries.” While it’s unclear who was at fault, footage from the scene showed that the Cruise vehicle had been struck from the side while the fire truck attempted to move through the intersection.

The incident comes less than a week after the California Public Utilities Commission voted to allow paid self-driving taxi services in San Francisco to operate 24 hours a day and just 48 hours after another Cruise vehicle stranded itself in wet cement. That incident took place near Fillmore and Steiner streets on Golden Gate Avenue and was more embarrassing than anything.

We’ve seen autonomous test vehicles having difficulties navigating construction zones in the past and this has to be a prime example. Cruise employees had to go fetch the stranded vehicle later in the day.

“I can see five different scenarios where bad things happen and this is one of them,” Paul Harvey, a San Francisco resident who watched the car getting pulled out of the concrete, told SFGATE. “It thinks it’s a road and it ain’t because it ain’t got a brain and it can’t tell that it’s freshly poured concrete.”

While Harvey said he understood that humans are prone to making mistakes behind the wheel, he said he remained skeptical of autonomous vehicles — calling them creepy.

With local officials souring on self-driving testing in San Francisco, there’s been more focused coverage of mishaps over the last several months. However, the robotaxis seem to be offering the media plenty of opportunities. We reported on how elevated internet usage stemming from Outside Lands event attendees resulted in a drop in cell service near North Beach. Unfortunately, this meant a batch of nearby autonomous taxis couldn’t utilize the network and subsequently stopped moving when coverage ended. While the resulting traffic backup was brief, it served as another moment of embarrassment.

And that’s just August. The SFPD has logged over 66 incidents in which robotaxis interfered with fire trucks, starting in May 2022. But there have also been mishaps where they’ve collided with mass transit, struck pets, and behaved erratically in mundane situations a human driver would have had no trouble coping with. The bad publicity certainly isn’t helping either Waymo or Cruise win over San Francisco residents and local officials have vowed to work tirelessly until the California Public Utilities Commission and Governor Gavin Newsom change their tune about allowing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

[Image: Cruise]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 38 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Aug 22, 2023

    These companies' lawyers should be looking for jobs, because their crystal ball has to be telling them they will eventually be defending their clients against a wrongful death lawsuit - with more to come.

    It's a statistical inevitability.

  • Zerofoo Zerofoo on Aug 22, 2023

    Humans putting non-deterministic systems in charge of things will go down in history as one of the dumbest things we ever did.

    A machine that does not have reliable, predictable output is not a good machine.

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.