California regulators allege that a San Francisco robotaxi service owned by General Motors covered up an accident involving one of its self-driving cars, raising the specter that they could add a fine to the recent suspension of its California license.
The possible fine facing GM’s cruise service could be around $1.5 million, according to documents filed late last week by the California Public Utilities Commission.
The notice orders Cruise to appear at an evidentiary hearing on Feb. 6 to determine whether the robotaxi service misled regulators about what happened after one of its self-driving cars struck a pedestrian who had already been hit by another vehicle. driven by a human on the night of February 6. October 2 in San Francisco.
The February hearing comes just six months after the commission authorized Cruise’s robotaxi service to begin charging passengers for 24-hour rides throughout San Francisco, despite strident objections from city officials who warned that self-driving cars were not working properly.
Three weeks after Cruise’s accident on October 2, the California Department of Motor Vehicles effectively shut down the robotaxi service by suspending its license to operate in the state.
The suspension was a blow to Cruise and its corporate parent, GM, which absorbed huge losses during the development of the driverless service that was supposed to generate $1 billion in revenue by 2025 as it expanded beyond San Francisco.
After losing nearly $6 billion since the end of 2019, Cruise has backpedaled as it struggles to manage the fallout from the Oct. 2 crash that seriously injured the struck pedestrian and led to the recent resignation of CEO and co-founder Kyle Vogt.
Without directly addressing the potential fine, GM CEO Mary Barra said Monday that the October crisis has helped the automaker learn more about the need for transparency and a better relationship with regulators.
“We’re very focused on righting the ship here because this is a technology that can make the way we move from point A to point B safer,” Barra said at an automotive media gathering.
Barra also pointed to Cruise’s management overhaul, which included a reorganization of its legal and government relations teams, as signs of progress. “We believe we can do things more efficiently,” she said.
Cruise issued its own statement pledging to respond “in a timely manner” to the Public Utilities Commission’s concerns. The company has already hired an outside law firm to examine its response to the Oct. 2 crash.
The most serious questions about the incident concern Cruise’s handling of a video showing a robotaxi called the “Panini” dragging the pedestrian 20 feet (6 meters) before stopping.
In a Dec. 1 filing recounting how Cruise handled revelations about the crash, the Public Utilities Commission claimed the company tried to conceal how its robotaxi reacted to the crash for more than two weeks.
Cruise did not provide the video until Oct. 19, according to the regulatory filing. The cover-up lasted 15 days, according to the PUC, exposing Cruise and GM to possible fines of $100,000 per day, or $1.5 million.