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GM Cruise unit suspends all driverless operations after California ban

A Cruise self-driving car, which is owned by General Motors Corp, is seen outside the company’s headquarters in San Francisco

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -General Motors' driverless car unit Cruise said late Thursday it will suspend all operations nationwide after California regulators this week ordered the robotaxi operator to remove its driverless cars from state roads.

California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on Tuesday said Cruise driverless vehicles were a risk to the public and that the company had "misrepresented" the technology's safety.

Cruise said "the most important thing for us right now is to take steps to rebuild public trust... In that spirit, we have decided to proactively pause driverless operations across all of our fleets while we take time to examine our processes, systems, and tools."

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Cruise has driverless operations in Phoenix, Houston, Austin, Dallas and Miami.

The suspension, following a series of accidents involving Cruise vehicles, is a significant setback to the self-driving business that GM has called a major growth opportunity.

Cruise said Thursday the decision is unrelated to any new on-road incidents, and supervised autonomous vehicle operations will continue.

The DMV on Tuesday said Cruise driverless vehicles "are not safe for the public's operation," citing "an unreasonable risk to public safety."

Earlier Thursday, U.S. auto safety officials said they were investigating five additional reports of Cruise self-driving cars engaging in inappropriately hard braking that resulted in collisions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in December it had opened a formal safety probe into Cruise after reports of three crashes in which its vehicles were struck from behind by other vehicles after the autonomous vehicles braked quickly, resulting in two injuries.

In an Oct. 20 letter made public Thursday, however, NHTSA said it was asking questions about five new crash reports involving Cruise vehicles that braked with no obstacles ahead and is seeking additional information by Nov. 3.

"Inappropriately hard braking results in the Cruise vehicles becoming unexpected roadway obstacles and may result in a collision with a Cruise vehicle," NHTSA said in its letter.

Cruise said it was cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

"We welcome NHTSA's questions related to our safety record and operations," Cruise said.

NHTSA earlier this month opened a separate probe into whether Cruise was taking sufficient precautions with autonomous robotaxis to safeguard pedestrians.

In August, the DMV directed Cruise to remove half of its driverless vehicles after another crash.

Cruise said the DMV was reviewing an Oct. 2 incident where one of its self-driving vehicles braked but did not avoid striking a pedestrian who had previously been struck by a hit-and-run driver.

The DMV order said Cruise had not initially disclosed all video footage of the accident and that "Cruise's vehicles may lack the ability to respond in a safe and appropriate manner during incidents involving a pedestrian."

Cruise denied the allegation saying it had shown the DMV "the complete video multiple times."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Rod Nickel and Christopher Cushing)