Cruise swerves to hire safety guru after series of misadventures on the streets

Robocar company lost license to operate in California

Autonomous vehicle biz Cruise has hired a Chief Safety Officer following the dramatic incident last fall when a pedestrian was dragged under the wheels of one of its cars, precipitating a suspension of its US fleet.

The subsidiary of General Motors has named Steve Kenner, a veteran of the auto industry, in the newly created role.

Since starting to operate its vehicles on the streets of San Francisco in 2022, Cruise has seen one of its cars hit a bendy bus, another drive into wet cement and become stuck, and several freeze up in traffic and cause a jam, as The Register has reported.

Yet it was the events of last October that caused the biggest response: a hit-and-run driver struck a pedestrian in San Francisco, throwing her into the path of a Cruise autonomous vehicle, which also ran over her and trapped her under the wheels. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) and Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) both launched investigations.

The Cruise vehicle had interpreted this accident as a side impact and pulled forward approximately 20 feet (6 meters), dragging the individual along with it.

Following that accident, Cruise founder and CEO Kyle Vogt and COO Dan Kan resigned, nine other executives were chopped, and 24 percent of the company's staff were laid off.

Kenner joins Cruise from self-driving truck company Kodiak, where he served as Veep of Safety. Before that he was Chief Product and Safety Officer at another driverless truck outfit, Locomation.

He has also worked at Chrysler, Ford and Cruise's parent company General Motors, and even did a stint at Apple as director of product integrity.

Kenner holds an MBA from Stanford University and graduated from Kettering University (formerly known as General Motors Institute) with a qualification in mechanical engineering.

"I have worked on safety critical technologies throughout my career, I believe in the safety potential of autonomous vehicles, and I want to safely and responsibly realize that potential," Kenner said in a statement.

He will be reporting to Cruise President and Chief Administrative Officer Craig Glidden, who conceded that the company needs to improve its overall safety performance and work to build trust with regulators.

"Steve Kenner brings the perfect blend of experience in AV and automotive safety excellence to help deliver on these important priorities," Glidden said.

Cruise parent General Motors is hoping to relaunch services and regain the company's license to operate soon, despite concerns from the public and government agencies over the safety of its vehicles, something Kenner will be at pains to address. ®

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