On Friday, Cruise confirmed that its board had hired an outside law firm and technology consultants after the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended its driverless vehicle operations. While robotaxi services had started developing a bad reputation in the months leading up to the suspension, Cruise (owned by General Motors) only saw government action taken against it following a high-profile incident where one of its vehicles struck a pedestrian.
The details of the matter have been covered endlessly and seem to provide the company with an excuse, as reports stipulate that the victim was initially struck by another vehicle. However, the driverless car’s response in the aftermath may have made things worse — as pulling over resulted in dragging the injured pedestrian beneath the vehicles.
While publicly releasing the footage (like Uber did when one of its vehicles fatally struck a pedestrian during testing) would presumably settle the matter, only law enforcement and select journalists have been given access to the relevant videos. Cruise has instead issued some press releases detailing the event, along with some simulations that are supposed to prove that autonomous vehicles are superior in handling an emergency — with the company only needing to reexamine how vehicles are programmed to respond to this singular incident type.
According to Reuters, Cruise’s board has hired law firm Quinn Emanuel to review Cruise management’s responses to regulators investigating the accident that took place on October 2nd. Exponent has also been tapped as the brand’s technology consultant and has been tasked with reviewing the Cruise’s autonomous systems.
GM, in a statement Friday, said “we fully support the actions that Cruise leadership is taking to ensure that it is putting safety first and building trust and credibility with government partners, regulators, and the broader community. Our commitment to Cruise with the goal of commercialization remains steadfast.”
Federal and state safety regulators are investigating a series of accidents involving driverless Cruise vehicles. California regulators suspended the company’s license to operate driverless vehicles last month, saying the self-driving vehicles were a risk to the public.
California regulators said Cruise officials had misrepresented information about an accident in which a Cruise car struck a pedestrian after she had been hit by a vehicle operated by a human driver.
Federal regulators last month told Cruise they are investigating incidents in which Cruise driverless cars appeared to fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had previously opened an investigation into incidents in which Cruise cars were struck from behind.
The company has already announced plans to take inventory of its operations to determine where improvements can be made. But the hiring of a legal team and technology experts makes it sound like it’s gearing up to defend itself. That’s understandable. However, one wonders about how impartial outside companies tasked with doing an assessment actually are when they’re still on the corporate payroll.
Considering that General Motors already has billions invested into Cruise and believes commercialized autonomous vehicles will eventually become a highly lucrative industry, there’s little chance of the automaker taking this suspension lying down. But this will be a slow process. Several of the government investigations pertain to incidents dating back to 2021 and don’t seem anywhere near being concluded.
[Image: General Motors]
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