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Autonomous bus crash in Whitby leaves man in critical condition

Click to play video: 'Man in critical condition after self-driving bus crashes into tree'
Man in critical condition after self-driving bus crashes into tree
Durham police are investigating after an autonomous bus somehow lost control. Police say the safety attendant was the only person on board at the time. Frazer Snowdon has the story. – Dec 17, 2021

The accident has left officials with Durham Transit puzzled. How did an autonomous bus lose control and hit a tree?

That’s what Durham Transit’s deputy GM of business services, Jamie Austin, is asking as well.

“The circumstances around the collision are not known at this point,” he says. “We are just concerned about the well-being of the safety attendant that was onboard at the time.”

That operator, a 23-year-old man, was left in critical condition from the crash. Durham police say the bus was driving along Watson Street around 4 p.m. Thursday, when it suddenly lost control, mounting the curb, before crashing.

“This was involving an autonomous vehicle/bus that left the roadway and collided with a tree,” says Acting Sgt. George Tudos.

“The driver was transported to Toronto trauma centre, where he remains in stable condition.”

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According to Durham Transit, the bus was not in service at the time. The only person on board was its young safety operator.

“We’re incredibly saddened to hear about this incident and our focus is on finding out what happened,” says Austin.

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The green-friendly bus is emission-free with a goal to keep the roadways safer. The vehicle, called Whitby Autonomous Vehicle Electric (WAVE), has been looping around a small route since November as a pilot project.

It’s a collaboration with several partners, including Durham Region, the Town of Whitby and Autoguardian by Smart Cone Technologies.

Tenille Houston, CEO of the company says they are fully cooperating with DRPS and helping with the investigation.

“The safety and well-being of our team members is our number one priority,” she says.

“We are working with police to assist in the investigation and will be certain to support in any way possible.”

It’s the first time a problem has been reported on the route. However, operation has been put on hold until officials can get to the bottom of what happened.

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“We have suspended shuttle service indefinitely until that review can be completed,” says Austin.

What isn’t clear at this time is whether the vehicle was being operated by the staff member on board, or travelling autonomously. The vehicle is set to travel at only 20 kilometres per hour. Tudos says all factors will be looked at.

“I don’t know the speed limit of that vehicle or what speed it was going at the time of this collision,” says Tudos. “We are trying to look for witnesses, anyone that might have information.”

The Ministry of Labour has also been called in to investigate.

If you can help, contact Durham police.

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