Cruise has proposed paying fines amounting to $112,000 following accusations of misleading regulators regarding its autonomous vehicle

Top executives from Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of General Motors, appeared before an administrative law judge on Tuesday to address allegations of misleading the public and the state’s regulatory agencies responsible for overseeing driverless vehicle safety in California.

Cruise is accused of withholding crucial information from the California Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Motor Vehicles regarding an incident on Oct. 2, where one of its driverless cars dragged a woman 20 feet after failing to detect that she was trapped underneath the vehicle.

While Cruise admits fault, it denies intentionally misleading regulators. At the CPUC hearing, Cruise President Craig Glidden and his team acknowledged a series of regrettable missteps but emphasized that the company did not purposefully deceive anyone.

“It was a mistake,” stated Glidden, referring to Cruise’s failure to promptly and clearly communicate the specific details of the incident to regulators. “Cruise is making efforts to rectify that mistake.”

In recent submissions to the CPUC, Cruise proposed resolving the Commission’s ongoing investigation by voluntarily expanding the scope of information it discloses to regulators regarding collisions. Currently, California regulations mandate that driverless car companies only provide comprehensive summaries of crashes, referred to as “collision reports,” for incidents involving vehicles in the testing phase. However, Cruise’s proposal would extend its reporting to include collisions involving vehicles operating under a “deployment permit,” indicating they are transporting paying passengers.

As part of its initial settlement offer, Cruise also suggested paying $75,000 in fines related to its handling of the Oct. 2 incident. However, during Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Robert Mason suggested this amount was insufficient.

“Consider the implication,” the judge advised Cruise representatives.

Subsequently, Glidden, accompanied by other Cruise executives and legal representatives, announced that Cruise would increase its offer by $37,500 to align with the financial figure recommended by the judge. Consequently, Cruise is now willing to pay a total of $112,500 in fines.

Glidden expressed that Cruise isn’t seeking a discount. He emphasized that the current incident doesn’t represent the full extent of Cruise’s accountability, indicating that there will be multiple layers of responsibility and transparency arising from the incident.

During the hearing, Cruise representatives underscored the extensive repercussions the company has faced since the Oct. 2 incident. This includes the departure of nine senior executives, laying off 900 employees, and grounding its entire fleet of driverless cars indefinitely. The company, which operated approximately 400 driverless vehicles in San Francisco, Houston, Phoenix, and Austin, halted its self-driving service after the California DMV suspended its driverless car permits due to safety concerns stemming from the Oct. 2 accident. Moreover, the incident triggered at least five ongoing government investigations involving various agencies like the California DMV, CPUC, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The involvement in the incident followed a series of tragic and peculiar events. A woman was initially hit by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a typically busy street in San Francisco. Subsequently, a driverless Cruise car ran over her and came to an immediate stop. Regulators accused Cruise of misleading them by not disclosing that the vehicle attempted to pull over, dragging the pedestrian for about 20 feet after failing to recognize she was trapped underneath.

The CPUC only realized the full extent of the incident after communicating with the DMV and federal investigators. Cruise had withheld crucial details from the CPUC for 15 days, according to previous filings by Judge Mason.

Now, the judge must decide whether to accept, modify, or reject Cruise’s settlement offer. Although pleased with the increased fine amount, Judge Mason criticized Cruise for not promptly disclosing the incident’s details to the CPUC, stating, “You just never came out and said it. I’m just sort of bothered when I look at the totality of the facts.”

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