California commission says Cruise withheld data about parking atop of a pedestrian

Stalled self-driving car biz up to its axles in problems

California's Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has threatened driverless taxi outfit Cruise with fines and sanctions unless it can prove it didn't withhold information and make misleading statements about an October accident. 

According [PDF] to CPUC administrative law judge Robert Mason, Cruise officials neglected to tell the CPUC that a pedestrian struck by a Cruise vehicle on October 2 was dragged 20 feet before the car parked on top of her. Cruise has been in a tailspin since the incident, with a national pause on operations and a reshuffle in its management.

 "[Cruise spokesperson Jose] Alvarado's description of the incident only included that the Cruise AV immediately stopped upon impact with the pedestrian and contacted Cruise's remote assistance," Mason said. 

"Mr. Alvarado's description of the October 2, 2023 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," the judge added, citing testimony from the CPUC analyst first informed of the incident. 

Along with failing to mention the dragging of the pedestrian, who was in critical condition following the accident, Cruise also allegedly withheld video evidence of the collision from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and CPUC, only providing a full account on October 18. 

"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," Mason said. 

Along with its actions toward the Commission and DMV, Mason also said that Cruise's public statement on the incident, which Cruise removed from its site on Friday "out of respect to ongoing regulatory engagement," was publicly misleading. 

According to the judge, Cruise wrote that it had "proactively shared information with the DMV, CPUC and [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] NHTSA … when, in fact, it withheld information … for 15 days." 

Cruise has until a February 6 hearing to "show cause, if any, why Cruise should not be fined, penalized, and/or receive other regulatory sanctions," Mason said. The car biz could face penalties up to $105,000 per violation of several sections of California's public utilities code, fines up to $7,500 per day per offense, and additional actions. 

"Cruise is committed to rebuilding trust with our regulators and will respond in a timely manner to the CPUC," a company spokesperson told The Register.

We thought computers were supposed to make driving safer?

Cruise, which is owned by General Motors, has had a bumpy ride in recent years, and it has only become worse since the October pedestrian collision. 

The October 2 accident, and another pedestrian collision in August, triggered an NHTSA investigation into Cruise's safety record in mid-October - just the first sign of more trouble to come.

By October 24, California's DMV had suspended Cruise's license to operate driverless taxis in the state, in part due to misrepresentations mentioned in Mason's decision. A few days later Cruise announced it was pausing all driverless operations. 

Cruise then issued a software recall notice to add anti-pedestrian dragging features to its cars on November 8, but by November 15 had paused all supervised and manual operations of its fleet. Five days later, founder and CEO Kyle Vogt announced he was resigning from the company.

Last week, GM CEO Mary Barra said her company would "substantially" reduce its spending on Cruise after earlier pausing its production of Cruise-branded "Origin" autonomous vans. GM has invested around $2 billion in Cruise since it bought the company in 2016. 

It's unclear how large GM's spending reduction on the subsidiary will be or what it plans to do with Cruise given these most recent developments; we'll update this story if we hear back. ®

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