Automation

SF Motorcyclist Sues GM Over AV Crash

Though exactly who or what caused the collision between a motorcyclist and an autonomous vehicle remains unclear, a lawsuit against the car’s maker, General Motors, has been filed.

by Ethan Baron, The Mercury News / January 24, 2018
Shutterstock

(TNS) — SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — A motorcyclist who collided with a General Motors self-driving car after it aborted a lane change while driving autonomously in San Francisco has filed a lawsuit against the car maker.

General Motors and its Cruise subsidiary have had a permit to test autonomous vehicles on California roads since June 2015, and have 110 vehicles and 300 test drivers approved for testing, according to the DMV.

Motorcyclist Oscar Nilsson of San Francisco claims in the suit that a GM Cruise Chevrolet Bolt he was riding behind Dec. 7 changed lanes to the left, and when he rode forward, the Bolt suddenly veered back into his lane and knocked him to the ground.

The Bolt driver’s hands had been off the steering wheel, and he’d “commanded” the vehicle to change lanes to the left, before it abruptly returned to the right-hand lane, Nilsson claimed in the suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

A crash report filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles by General Motors provided a much different view of the accident. The company acknowledged that the car, in autonomous-driving mode in heavy traffic, had aborted a lane change. But GM said that as its car was “re-centering itself” in the lane, Nilsson, who had been riding between two lanes in a legal-in-California practice known as lane-splitting, “moved into the center lane, glanced the side of the Cruise … wobbled, and fell over.”

The car maker claimed that a collision report assigned blame to Nilsson, because he purportedly overtook and passed a vehicle “under conditions that did not permit that movement in safety.”

San Francisco police did not immediately respond to a request for information about the collision and whether fault was determined.

General Motors did not immediately answer questions about the incident and the lawsuit. The company’s Cruise subsidiary has been running a “Cruise Anywhere” program since August for employees, which allows them to hail automated Cruise vehicles and be driven anywhere in San Francisco. It was unclear whether the vehicle involved in the accident was part of this program.

It was also unclear if the Bolt in question was one of the “third-generation” automated vehicles described in September by Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt as “the world’s first mass-producible car designed to operate without a driver.” Those vehicles were intended to be used in the “Cruise Anywhere” program, Vogt wrote in a Medium post.

California still requires autonomous vehicles to have a driver behind the wheel to take over as necessary.

While Google took an early lead in autonomous driving with a program now spun off into its own company, Waymo, GM’s manufacturing capabilities and business strategy have pushed Cruise ahead, according to a report by market-research firm Navigant Research in January.

Nilsson claimed in his lawsuit that he suffered neck and shoulder injuries from the crash, which will require “lengthy treatment,” and that he has had to go on disability leave from work.

According to GM’s crash report, the Bolt was traveling at 12 miles per hour, while Nilsson had been driving at 17 miles per hour. After the collision, Nilsson “got up and walked his vehicle to the side of the road” and “reported shoulder pain and was taken to receive medical care.”

In California, autonomous vehicle test drivers must have good driving records and successfully complete a test-driver training program administered by the car maker, DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said.

“Companies with permits are allowed to test on any California public roadway — they don’t tell us which ones they are testing on,” Gonzalez said.

©2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.