I was going to write this post later this week filling in my promised experience from Thursday Oct 19th, 2023, experience of real fear that I might be involved in a really bad accident, while riding in a Cruise driverless taxi in San Francisco. The reason for rushing it out today is this story, today, that Cruise is no longer allowed to operate driverless taxis in San Francisco.
The story implies that they will no longer be allowed to operate even empty vehicles without a safety driver, which would mean two steps backwards from where they have been in San Francisco. It also says that Cruise misrepresented safety information to regulators.
My Recent Experience
I have taken around 36 Cruise driverless taxi rides over the last handful of months. They have had their ups and downs in user experience, and I had planned to talk about some of those in explaining why I do not think the experience is really what one expects from a deployed taxi service like Uber or Lyft.
But last Thursday night I had a moment where I experienced real fear, where for half a second I thought I might be involved in an extremely bad accident.
It was at night and we were crossing Divisadero, heading west, on Filbert. Left is a steep uphill few blocks on Divisadero. There was a car coming down the hill quite fast, as we crossed Divisadero. My Cruise, with nothing at all in front of it, braked hard, really hard, right in the middle of the intersection, harder than I had ever experienced a Cruise taxi braking. That brought us (me and my taxi) to almost a complete stop right in the path of the oncoming vehicle. Fortunately the other vehicle started to slow down and then the Cruise moved on out of its way.
This, above, is my recollection of what happened. When it braked hard a real pang of fear shot through my body. When I saw the car heading right at us a conscious version of that fear kicked in.
A human driver in that situation would mostly likely continue to drive and not brake at all. Braking was the best possible way to cause a collision. Not a good choice.
In previous accidents that have resulted in collisions Cruise vehicles have been at a stop. My interpretation, and I have no knowledge of whether this is true or not, was that rather than take the risk of hitting another vehicle while moving, the algorithms were set to freeze when there was an imminent collision, as better than running into someone else. A weird hard-wired trolley problem solution which does not protect the Cruise vehicle, but unfortunately for a rider does not protect them either. And in many cases increases the likelihood of a collision rather than reduces it.
See a Cruise with a passenger freezing in the middle of an intersection back in August, getting hit and sending a passenger to hospital.
More to come…