The California Public Utilities Commission is hauling self-driving taxi company Cruise to court for allegedly “failing to provide complete information” by leaving out the rather significant detail that their car dragged a pedestrian 20 feet in an October 2 collision.
It wasn’t that long ago that self-driving car company Cruise was lecturing us at length over how their robotaxis were so much safer than human drivers, while tech industry bigwigs were blaming SF elected officials for not being adequately thankful for Cruise, and Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt was piously declaring, “if we're serious about safety in our cities, we should be rolling out the red carpet” for Cruise. But Kyle Vogt is no longer Cruise CEO, and all that self-congratulatory safety talk came to a complete halt after an October 2 collision in SF where a Cruise vehicle ran over and dragged a pedestrian who’d been hit by another vehicle.
The California DMV then suspended Cruise’s operations in SF, while Cruise themselves suspended their self-driving cars across the U.S. and recalled all their robotaxis nationwide amidst a federal investigation. And about three weeks after the pedestrian-dragging incident, Vice had a report alleging that Cruise withheld information from state regulators, supposedly burying the rather important detail that the Cruise vehicle dragged that pedestrian 20 feet before eventually stopping.
And now the Chronicle reports that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is publicly alleging that Cruise withheld information from the state and misled the public on that crash. A December 1 letter demands that Cruise appear in court and explain themselves for “failing to provide complete information” that they had full video of the incident that they didn’t share, and “making misleading public comments” by claiming they’d shared the full video when they had not.
The CPUC’s allegations are in a 13-page letter from Judge Robert Mason, which said that “by withholding information about the extent of the Cruise (autonomous vehicle) interaction with the pedestrian, Cruise misled the DMV and, in turn, the Commission into thinking that the original video shown and commented on accurately memorialized the full extent of the incident.”
The claim of “misleading public comments” comes from a now-deleted October 24 Cruise company blog post. That blog post now sheepishly says, “Out of respect to ongoing regulatory engagement, we have removed the Oct. 24 post.”
But it’s archived on the Wayback Machine, and we see that Cruise claimed “our team proactively shared information with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), including the full video.”
Forbes’ coverage of the legal filing adds the detail that the yet-unidentified pedestrian victim was still in SF General Hospital as of November 28, a full eight weeks after the incident. Though Forbes adds that a hospital spokesperson said the victim was in “good condition” as of that date.
Forbes also estimated Cruise could be hit with a $100,000 fine, while the Chronicle reports it could be a $1 million fine, and a Reuters report on the filing says the fine could be as large as $1.5 million. Those are slap-on-the-wrist amounts for a company like Cruise, which is owned by GM. (The pedestrian victim’s settlement could be far larger.) But the CPUC could also revoke Cruise’s license to do business in the state, which would be a much more substantial punishment.
Judge Mason ruled that Cruise must respond to the letter’s claims by December 18 with a hand-delivered "verified statement," and in the words of Reuters, “a three-ringed binder containing a copy of all authorities.” Per Forbes, a hearing on the matter is currently scheduled for February 6.
Forbes also adds that Cruise said they’d hire the law firm Quinn Emanuel to assess their response to the matter, saying they were “committed to rebuilding trust with our regulators.” Though perhaps unsurprisingly, Cruise did not commit to releasing the firm’s report on their findings.
Image: San Francisco, CA, USA - Feb 23, 2020: A Cruise self-driving car undergoing testing in the SoMa District of San Francisco. A subsidiary of GM, Cruise tests and develops autonomous car technology. (Getty Images)