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Federal regulators launch probe into Cruise self-driving car crash in San Francisco

A Cruise vehicle on the streets of San Francisco in April 2021. Courtesy Cruise | Source: Cruise

Federal regulators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating a car crash last month in San Francisco involving a Cruise self-driving car and a Toyota Prius that led to injuries to occupants of both vehicles.

Cruise, the self-driving car company owned by General Motors, reached a major milestone on June 2 when it became the first autonomous vehicle company in California to win approval from regulators to ferry passengers in the state for a fee. One day later, the accident occurred. 

“NHTSA has not opened a formal investigation into Cruise for this or any other incident. An office within the agency has collected routine information, which we have provided,” a Cruise spokesperson said.

According to a DMV collision report filed by Cruise, the Chevy Cruise was operating in driverless autonomous mode and traveling eastbound on Geary Boulevard at around 11 p.m. toward the intersection with Spruce Street. It entered the left turn lane to turn left on Spruce at the same time a Toyota Prius was traveling westbound at around 40 miles per hour in a 25 MPH zone in the right turn lane.

The Cruise vehicle then stopped and turned as the Prius continued through the intersection, striking the rear passenger side of the self-driving car and damaging the right rear door, panel and wheel of the Cruise AV.

The DMV report, attributed to Todd Brugger, Cruise’s vice president, said police and emergency responders arrived at the scene and occupants of both vehicles received medical treatment for “allegedly minor injuries.” A fire department spokesman said one person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. 

According to the San Francisco Police Department, the Cruise autonomous vehicle had nobody in the driver’s seat and contained three adult passengers sitting in the rear seats of the vehicle. The Toyota Prius had one driver and one passenger. 

When emergency services arrived at the scene, one Cruise passenger was transported to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries. The driver and passenger in the Prius were treated for minor injuries at the scene.

The crash led to major damage to Cruise’s vehicle, which was towed away from the scene. A Cruise spokesperson said that the company’s vehicle was not issued a citation by police related to the crash.

The accident is one of 91 collisions involving an autonomous vehicle in California thus far in 2022, according to a review of DMV’s collision reports. Eighty-one took place in San Francisco, owing to the city’s role as a proving ground for self-driving cars. 

The regulator requires autonomous vehicle companies to report any collision resulting in property damage, bodily injury or death within 10 days of the incident.

The accident is one of a string of incidents in recent months involving Cruise amid a wider rollout of the company’s vehicles on city streets. These include a situation where a driverless Cruise car briefly took off after being pulled over by police, and a recent issue where a cluster of Cruise vehicles blocked traffic on Gough Street for a number of hours before being manually moved by workers. 

According to SFPD guidelines regarding law enforcement interactions with autonomous vehicles, a collision report is required to be filed for any accident involving a self-driving car, regardless of whether an injury occurred. 

Although the DMV filing said a police report was filed on the Cruise accident, a spokesperson with the San Francisco Police Department said they were unable to locate a report and said it is possible that one was not generated.