The year is ending on a very different note for driverless cars than how it started

This year was meant to be the year of the driverless car. And indeed, hundreds of robotaxis were unleashed on San Francisco streets. But then, for one company, things took a disastrous turn. NPR’s Dara Kerr reports.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: The first time General Motors CEO Mary Barra rode in a driverless car, she was giddy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARY BARRA: Oh, my God (laughter).

KERR: That’s her in a video of the ride. GM had made a big bet on self-driving cars by buying the startup Cruise in 2016. It’s since invested billions…

KERR: There were a lot of sticky situations. Driverless cars collided with fire trucks and blocked bus lanes. Confused vehicles clogged dead-end streets, and one ran over a dog.

PHILIP KOOPMAN: The part about we’re busy saving lives, so ignore all the mess you see – it has run its course.

KERR: Philip Koopman is an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon and an expert in self-driving car safety. He says all the talk around driverless cars being perfect and better than human drivers is partially what got the companies in trouble.

KOOPMAN: The narrative started to unravel when they promised we wouldn’t make the same stupid mistakes as human drivers, and then they got caught on camera making the same stupid mistakes.

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