Ford Ranger vs. autonomous Chevy Bolt plus other tales from California’s DMV

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Updated Oct 5, 2017

Since I’m curious about how autonomous vehicles are faring in California, I signed up for the state’s autonomous vehicle crash reports.

It’s an interesting and fast way to learn about one of the greatest concerns surrounding autonomous vehicles (AV): their ability to adapt to the innumerable banana peels tossed their way from the real world.

The reports are brief, to the point and signed by a representative with the AV company, such as a supervising engineer, or some guy that wasn’t able to get away from the water cooler fast enough.

Today’s report? A Ford Ranger vs. an autonomous 2017 Chevy Bolt owned by GM Cruise LLC. Like all the others, the DMV emailed me a copy of the original crash report. The accident happened nearly two weeks ago on Sept. 19. (Hey, the DMV’s never claimed to be the bastion of expediency. At least I didn’t have to stand in line for it, plus it’s never a dull moment clicking on these reports. You just don’t know what you’ll find. So far, nothing on Kitt from Knight Rider or rogue robot cars taking over San Francisco, though I understand Jimi Hendrix came fairly close in 1968).

The Sept. 19 collision occurred at the intersection of Division and 10th Streets. While these reports are pretty forthcoming about the AVs, they provide only scant info on the other vehicles involved and do not list the names of occupants, unless, I suppose, it happens to be one of the company’s AV engineers.

Here’s the description on Ranger vs. Cruise AV:

A Cruise autonomous vehicle (“Cruise AV”), operating in autonomous mode, was rear-ended by a white Ford Ranger while waiting at a stop light on 10th Street, southbound between Bryant and Division Streets. The Ranger crept forward slowly into the Cruise AV, which was completely stationary at the time of the collision. The parties exchanged information and the driver of the Ranger apologized, adding that he was on his cell phone. The police were called, but citing the lack of any injury, declined to respond to the scene.

The Chevy Bolt’s rear bumper was damaged and the bottom edge of its trunk door was dented. No word on whether or not the Ranger sustained any damage. Pretty easy to see who’s to blame for that one.

For those keeping score, this is the fourth pickup that’s collided with an AV since the DMV began collecting these mandated reports in 2014. Since that time there have been 41 incidents reported.

The first AV vs. pickup occurred on March 23 and involved a crane truck. Here’s the report:

A Cruise autonomous vehicle (“Cruise AV”) was traveling westbound on Broadway in San Francisco in autonomous mode and was in the process of passing a mobile crane truck that was double-parked, blocking the westbound lane. During this maneuver, a [2016] Ford F-250 approached and simultaneously went around both the Cruise AV and the crane truck. While the Ford made its pass, the Cruise AV stopped. As the Ford completed its pass and turned back into the forward lane of travel, the Ford clipped the front, driver’s side sensor of the Cruise Av. At the time of impact, the Cruise AV was stopped and the Ford was traveling at approximately 4 miles per hour.

A 1999 Chevy Silverado gets credit as the second pickup to strike an AV in the Golden State.

A Cruise autonomous vehicle (“Cruise AV”) was involved in a collision on 19th Street at Shotwell Street. The Cruise AV, heading west, was slowing down as it approached the four-way stop, at which point the driver of a pick-up truck behind the Cruise AV drove into the oncoming lane and began passing the Cruise AV. While driving past the Cruise AV, the truck clipped the Cruise Av’s front dirver’s side corner and continued through the intersection in the opposite lane of travel. The parties stopped and exchanged information after the intersection. Police were called to the scene but no report was created.

The third one happened on Aug. 16, 2017 and involved a 2017 Toyota Tacoma.

An Uber Volvo XC 90 registered under the DMV testing program (“Uber SDV”) was eastbound on Geary Blvd. preparing to make a right turn onto 3rd Ave. The vehicle operator disengaged the combined advanced driver assist systems on the vehicle to wait for pedestrians before making a right turn onto 3rd Ave. While the Uber SDV was stopped, a Toyota Tacoma impacted the rear of the Uber SDV. The collision caused minor damage to the vehicle’s rear hatch and bumper and scuffed the Tacoma’s bumper. No injuries were reported onsite. Police were not called. The Uber SDV co-pilot later reported wrist discomfort.

First time I’ve seen a vehicle occupant called a co-pilot. Plus, I didn’t realize it takes two folks to fly an XC 90. Admittedly, the XC 90 does sound like the name of a jet plane.

There are plenty of reports to consider, and though there’s no official judgement of fault rendered in the reports, it’s pretty easy to see that the robots are winning. However, sedans souped up as AVs are a far cry from 80,000-lb. trucks. We’re still a long way from hearing Stephen Hawking uttering in a commanding, synthesized voice, “See, I told you so!”