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Automated taxis to have drivers after serious injury lawsuit

A Cruise self-driving autonomous car drives on Jackson Street in downtown San Francisco

A robo-taxi company will be putting people back in the driving seat after one of its autonomous vehicles dragged a pedestrian along a road, resulting in horrific injuries and a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

Cruise was one of several robo-taxi firms operating in San Francisco and, as we saw last year, not without its issues. Despite what officials referred to as a “skyrocketing” number of incidents, Cruise insisted drivers in the city caused more accidents and injuries than its automated cars and it was granted licences to operate 24 hours a day. Its trials saw operating hours limited to nighttime when the roads were quieter.

Serious injuries

Since the success of its pilot scheme, The Independent reports that the company has just paid between £6.3 million and £9.45 million to settle a lawsuit with a woman who suffered “traumatic injuries” caused by one of its vehicles.

The report said that the woman was initially struck by another vehicle with a driver at the wheel, and was pushed into the path of the oncoming robo-taxi.

The company posted on X that the vehicle “detected a collision and attempted to pull over to avoid more safety issues”.

But the Telegraph reports that as the car tried to pull over, “it continued for about 20 feet before coming to a stop with the pedestrian pinned to the bottom of the car. The woman sustained ‘traumatic injuries’ and was taken to the hospital for treatment.”

Service stopped

Following this incident, Cruise stopped its automated taxi service in the city and later pulled its entire fleet from service across the US.

The Telegraph says the company is now starting to reintroduce taxis with human drivers who can take over in case of an emergency and that testing will start in Phoenix before moving to other Arizona cities. Having withdrawn its automated cars from San Fransisco, Cruise is applying to have its licences reinstated in California.

It is worth noting that under US law, where there is a person in the driver’s seat and automated technology is being used, it is the driver that is liable in the event of a crash, unlike in the UK, where it is the vehicle and software manufacturers.

Cruise’s licensing application is under review and, given the concerns officials raised about the number and nature of incidents involving robo-taxis before this incident, there are no guarantees it will be reinstated.

Teething trouble

During trials of the vehicles in San Fransisco, we reported on a white-knuckle ride a BBC journalist endured in one of the autonomous vehicles. While James Clayton was impressed with the technology and novelty value, he likened some of its manoeuvres to those of a fighter jet – avoiding obstacles at speed, but doing little for comfort or the nerves of passengers.

And there were also incidents in which faults with the vehicles caused problems, such as the time when they congregated in the same area and shut down in the middle of the street, causing rush-hour gridlock.

Many see autonomous taxis as the future, but a lot will have to change before they become the norm. As the Cruise example shows, the consequences can be catastrophic when things go wrong, however hard a computer is programmed to keep everyone safe.

Planes have used auto-pilots for decades and technology for automatic take-offs and landings has been around since the 1980s, but no one would get on a plane without knowing there are at least two pilots in the cockpit. Otherwise, every plane in the sky would be flown by robots.

All information is correct at time of publication. Information provided within this article may have changed over time. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by John Patons Insurance Services or any of its employees.

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Vehicle Innovations