Self-driving taxi company Cruise, owned by General Motors, has released a report by a third-party law firm which they say will "help both Cruise and the industry learn from the incident, strengthen protocols, and improve technology."
It's been three months since Cruise suspended all of its driverless operations in San Francisco and elsewhere in the country, a decision that followed a suspension a few days earlier of the company's operational license by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The following month would see the resignation of Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt, and major layoffs at the company that included a bloodbath among the C-suite, after it was clear that a series of high-profile incidents in San Francisco — and one gnarly collision in particular — were not handled well, and the company's hopes of regaining the trust of regulators and the public were dashed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also launched a probe into how the robotaxis behave on streets with regard to pedestrians.
The firm, Quinn Emanuel, reviewed 200,000 internal documents and conducted interviews with 88 Cruise employees in the preparation of the report, and ascribes much of the mishandling of the October 2 crash and its aftermath to "a failure of leadership within Cruise."
In the crash, a female pedestrian was struck by a Cruise vehicle and dragged some 20 feet near the intersection of Market and Fifth Streets in San Francisco. The company at first tried to lay most fo the blame for the crash on another, human-driven vehicle which actually struck the woman — who was then knocked into the path of the cruise vehicle. But the Cruise vehicle proceeded to stop on top of the woman and then drag her, likely causing further injury, as it attempted to pull over — something the software was trained to do.
The circumstances of the dragging was partly concealed from Public Utilities Commission regulators — in part, apparently, because the employee who was tasked with showing video of the incident to regulators had internet connectivity trouble during a meeting — and this led to further tensions with the state and blowback from the PUC.
"The report concludes that Cruise did not verbally point out these facts to regulators or government officials in its meetings, despite video transmission issues that impeded or prevented regulators from seeing the pullover maneuver and pedestrian dragging," the blog post explains. "Quinn Emanuel ascribes this to a failure of leadership within Cruise, inadequate and uncoordinated internal processes, mistakes in judgment, an 'us versus them' mentality with government officials, and a fundamental misunderstanding of regulatory requirements and expectations."
The report also concludes that the "DMV Suspension Order is a direct result of a proverbial self-inflicted wound by certain senior Cruise leadership and employees who appear not to have fully appreciated how a regulated business should interact with its regulators."
The company's mea culpa comes further in the post, and they now say they are "profoundly remorseful" about the handling of the incident.
"We acknowledge that we have failed to live up to the justifiable expectations of regulators and the communities we serve," Cruise says. "In doing so, we also fell woefully short of our own expectations. We are profoundly remorseful both for the injuries to the pedestrian, as well as for breaching the trust of our regulators, the media, and the public."
The U.S. Department of Justice is apparently now involved in the investigation into Cruise and this incident, and the company says it is "fully cooperating" with that and other investigations by the DMV and the CPUC.
"We believe that, over time, autonomous vehicles can significantly reduce the number and severity of car collisions which result in more than 40,000 deaths on U.S. roads each year," the company says in conclusion. "This is what motivates our work. We know our license to operate must be earned and is ultimately granted by regulators and the communities we serve. We are focused on advancing our technology and earning back public trust."