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December 6, 2023
Self-driving company Cruise could be facing a major fine for initially failing to disclose the full details of the October incident in San Francisco that caused it to stop operating across the United States.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) wants the General Motors subsidiary to appear at a hearing on Feb. 6 to explain its actions after the accident, which saw a pedestrian dragged along the road by a self-driving Cruise taxi after being struck by a hit-and-run human-driven vehicle, leaving her seriously injured.
Documents posted on the CPUC website reveal that the regulatory body is asking Cruise to demonstrate “why it should not be sanctioned by the commission for failing to provide complete information and for making misleading public comments” regarding the Oct. 2 incident.
The document alleges that the regulatory body was informed of the collision via a phone call from a Cruise employee, Jose Alvarado. It states: “During this telephonic meeting, Mr. Alvarado’s description of the incident only included that the Cruise AV [autonomous vehicle] immediately stopped upon impact with the pedestrian and contacted Cruise’s remote assistance.
“Mr. Alvarado’s description of the… incident omitted that the Cruise AV had engaged in the pullover maneuver which resulted in the pedestrian being dragged an additional 20 feet at 7 mph.”
In the days following the accident, CPUC believes its efforts to establish what happened were hindered by the fact that Cruise did not make its video evidence immediately available. This was initially contested by Cruise, which claimed in an online post that it had “proactively shared information” including “the full video.”
This post has subsequently been taken down by Cruise and CPUC claims it was “misleading” pointing out that far from sharing details of the incident, the company “withheld information from the commission for 15 days.”
The accident and subsequent fallout have been disastrous for the company.
After having its license for driverless operations removed in California due to an “unreasonable risk to public safety,” Cruise voluntarily paused all activities across the United States, before founder and CEO Kyle Vogt resigned.
It has since launched an extensive review of procedures, confirmed production of its purpose-built Origin autonomous taxi has been suspended indefinitely and faces significantly reduced investment from GM, which has said it will cut spending on the company by “hundreds of millions of dollars” in 2024.
The CPUC document makes clear that as a first step, by Dec. 18, Cruise must “file and serve a verified statement” that includes all facts, arguments and legal authorities that support the company’s position.
Potential penalties for Cruise include fines of up to $100,000 a day for the duration of the alleged cover-up, which could mean a total bill of $1.5 million.
GM is believed to have lost around $8 billion on Cruise since acquiring the company, but in public at least continues to back it. Although not addressing the latest development directly, CEO Mary Barra said: “We’re very focused on righting the ship here, because this is technology that can make the way we move from point A to point B safer.”
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