Cruise recalls entire fleet of cars after San Francisco crash

Cruise recalls entire fleet of cars after San Francisco crash

SAN FRANCISCO — In the latest setback for General Motors-owned Cruise, the driverless-car company issued a voluntary recall of 950 of its vehicles nationwide after a horrific crash here last month and signaled layoffs could be coming.

The latest developments come after one of Cruise’s self-driving cars failed to detect a pedestrian pinned underneath its vehicle and dragged her for about 20 feet, causing serious injuries.

Cruise issued the recall Tuesday to correct the programming in its entire driverless fleet, saying it will address a “post-collision response” that “could increase the risk of injury.” The company already grounded its entire driverless fleet across the country last month after the pedestrian accident. One of Cruise’s driverless cars dragged the pedestrian, and the company initially misrepresented what happened during the Oct. 2 crash.

In a filing to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announcing the recall Tuesday, Cruise said the software update will address its “Collision Detection Subsystem” to better determine whether it should stay in place after a crash or move out of traffic, depending on the nature of the incident. Unlike a traditional recall that typically involves hardware, recalls such as this one for autonomous vehicles come in the form of software updates.

“Cruise has developed a software update that remedies the issue” that caused it to drag the pedestrian on Oct. 2, it said in the NHTSA filing. “With the new update, the Cruise AV would have remained stationary during the October 2 incident.”

Cruise said the update has been issued to its cars that are still operating on the roads with test drivers. The company said it will “deploy the remedy” to its driverless fleet before it resumes driverless operations, although it is unclear when that will be.

At issue is the Oct. 2 crash where a jaywalking pedestrian stepped into a busy intersection in San Francisco and was hit by a human-driven car. The pedestrian rolled onto the windshield for a few moments before she was flung into the path of the driverless car. Footage of the crash initially shared by Cruise with The Washington Post, other media outlets and the California Department of Motor Vehicles showed the driverless car stop as soon as it made contact with the pedestrian.

But, several weeks later, the California DMV revealed that its investigators learned that the car had continued moving for about 20 feet at 7 mph with the woman pinned underneath. That maneuver, the DMV said, likely increased the pedestrian’s injuries. The woman remained in the hospital as of Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.

In its filing to NHTSA announcing the recall, Cruise said of the software flaw that in certain circumstances after a collision has been detected, the system will automatically try to pull the car out of traffic “instead of remaining stationary when a pullover is not the desired post collision response.”

“This issue could occur after a collision with a pedestrian positioned low on the ground in the path of the AV,” the company said.

The California DMV suspended Cruise’s driverless permits last month after investigators determined that the robotaxis posed an “unreasonable risk” to the public in light of the Oct. 2 crash.

In an interview with The Post last month, Cruise chief executive Kyle Vogt said the criticism of driverless cars is overblown and that many of the incidents involving his company have been “sensationalized.” But the hard-charging CEO has changed his tune in recent weeks and has told employees that layoffs are possible as the company tries to rebuild public trust, according to an audio recording of a Nov. 6 meeting obtained by Forbes.

“We are still working through what that means for the company and who’s going to be affected by that, and we don’t have all the answers yet,” he said, according to the recording obtained by Forbes. “But what I can do is commit to providing more details within the next three weeks. So, importantly, that’s not when layoffs would occur for full-time employees; that’s when we’re going to give you an update on what that timeline might be.”

A person familiar with Cruise’s plans confirmed the content of the audio recording.

In a separate blog post Wednesday, the company also outlined steps it says it is taking in the aftermath of the Oct. 2 crash. Those steps include hiring a chief safety officer and engaging an outside law firm to “better understand Cruise’s response to the October 2 incident, including Cruise’s interactions with law enforcement, regulators, and the media.”

“We are dedicated to building a better Cruise, and these initial actions are just some of the steps we’re taking as we listen, learn, and improve,” the company said in the blog post. “We are committed to keeping our customers, regulators, and the public informed throughout this process.”

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