Cruise Pedestrian Dragging Incident Report
Cruise has released materials from an investigation into the pedestrian dragging incident and related external communication transparency failures of last October. There is a lot to unpack, but remarkably little of it truly has to do with safety. Most of it seems to be an exercise in blaming senior leadership (who have largely been sacked) and explaining why the problems were more due to misguided individuals and poor leadership rather than malefaction.
The explanations in the report include some pretty remarkable events. Repeated internet disruptions across multiple meetings only for the regulatory audience when showing the videos that affected the pedestrian dragging part. Combined with intentionally not showing the disrupted portions to others, including especially the press. And failing to correct mistaken impressions that were favorable to Cruise (while aggressively trying to fix ones that were unfavorable). And leaving the bad part out of public statements. And a paralegal who just didn't realize they should be putting the pedestrian dragging part into a report to NHTSA. Twice. And not talking to external parties who attended meetings to hear their side of the story in preparing this very investigative report when some key points had mixed evidentiary support.
Regardless of what you might think of the report veracity, my safety takeaways are:
- These reports do not actually address safety and safety processes. Initially Cruise said those topics would be addressed. However the Quinn Emanuel report specifically states those are out of scope, and instead limits inquiry to regulatory compliance and media relations issues. The Exponent report is clearly limited to root cause for that specific crash. Perhaps someone is working on an independent look at safety and safety processes, but it is not mentioned anywhere I could find.
- A pivotal moment (perhaps this will be the pivotal moment in retrospect) was in the timeline (page 12) Oct 3, 3:21 AM where the Director of Systems Integrity for Cruise created a video that, at the request of Cruise government affairs, left out the strike of the pedestrian and subsequent dragging. My recollection from listening to at least one journalist is that this video was later shown to journalists. An intentional decision not to tell the whole truth to the public gave regulators ammunition to blame Cruise for holding back regardless of the ultimate facts of those discussions.
- The significantly redacted Exponent report has some new information about the crash dynamics, including the vehicle speed at impact. Those are of interest to understanding the root cause, but have little to do with much bigger safety concerns. The very final sentence of the report is the most telling, and accurately summarizes the big safety concern for this particular mishap: "After the AV contacted the pedestrian, an alert and attentive human driver would be aware that an impact of some sort had occurred and would not have continued driving without further investigating the situation."
These are my preliminary thoughts on the day the reports were released, and are subject to revision as I consider things more deeply and additional information becomes available.