According to CBS SF Bay Area, a self-driving Cruise vehicle was ticketed by an officer in San Francisco, California, after it allegedly got too close to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The incident happened on March 27, which was just nine days after the New York Times reported that an autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The latest incident happened amidst heightened questioning about the safety of testing autonomous vehicles on the nation’s roadways.
The San Francisco Cruise Incident
In the San Francisco case, the human operator was sitting behind the wheel of the vehicle while it was operating in self-driving mode. When the Cruise car approached the intersection of Harrison Street and 14th Street, the car proceeded through a crosswalk before accelerating. A pedestrian was reportedly crossing the street in the crosswalk at the time that the Cruise car passed through it.
A witness saw a motorcycle officer pull the Cruise car over and write a ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian. The witness took a photograph of the officer writing the ticket and alerted the local CBS station. The human operator of the vehicle was ultimately issued the citation even though the vehicle was in self-driving mode at the time that the incident occurred.
When contacted by the media about the fact that one of its vehicles was ticketed in San Francisco for failing to yield to a pedestrian, Cruise issued its response. The company stated that it had collected data from its vehicle for the period when the vehicle had passed through the crosswalk. According to the company, the data revealed that the vehicle was 10.8 feet away from the pedestrian when it went through the intersection and argued that the vehicle responded appropriately by proceeding through it since it was a safe distance from the person who was crossing the street. Cruise did not indicate whether or not it plans to fight the ticket.
Need for Increased Reporting
According to ArsTechnica, very little information is collected about the operation of self-driving cars from companies like Cruise that are testing them. While companies are required to report accidents involving an autonomous car in California as well as to file annual reports about incidents in which drivers have to take over driving from a self-driving car because of safety reasons, little other data is reported. In states other than California, even less information from the companies is required. For example, Arizona does not require the autonomous car companies to report crashes or incidents when drivers are forced to take over driving from a self-driving car.
California Law About Yielding to Pedestrians
In the Cruise incident, the vehicle was alleged to have gotten too close to the pedestrian who was crossing the street in a marked crosswalk. Under California Vehicle Code § 21950, drivers in California are supposed to slow down as they approach marked crosswalks and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians who are crossing within them. Cruise appears to be arguing that since the pedestrian was more than 10 feet away from the vehicle when it passed through the crosswalk, the vehicle was far enough away to make yielding the right-of-way to the pedestrian unnecessary. It is unclear how a court might rule if the company decides to challenge the ticket.
Cruise Car Limitations
Earlier in March, ArsTechnica reported on the limitations of Cruise vehicles. Cruise reportedly has a goal of starting a driverless taxi service by the end of 2019 and has been increasing its autonomous car testing in downtown San Francisco recently. Some of the limitations that have been reported include the cars having trouble identifying objects such as bushes or light poles on the side of the road and suddenly hesitating, stopping, or swerving because the vehicles think that the objects are in their driving lanes. There are several other problems that have been reported with Cruise cars, including the following:
- Difficulty distinguishing between bicycles and motorcycles
- Tendency to drive in the middle of the road on two-way residential streets
- Interference with the GPS sensors of the vehicles when driving through tunnels
- Difficulty completing U-turns
- Trouble driving through construction zones
With these issues, it is clear that Cruise must continue to work on the technology of its self-driving fleet before it will be able to start the driverless taxi service that the company envisions. The fact that a car was ticketed for failing to yield to a pedestrian such a short time after the fatal pedestrian accident in Arizona underscores that more work needs to be completed to make certain that self-driving vehicles are safe before they are made widely available to the public.