Cruise accused of ‘chaotic’ safety culture by alleged whisleblower in letter to regulators
A person claiming to be a current Cruise employee raised concerns with California regulators about the self-driving tech company’s safety culture and readiness to begin commercial operations in San Francisco.
The letter arrived at the California Public Utilities Commission’s inbox for whistleblowers May 19, two weeks before the regulators cleared Cruise’s robotaxis for those commercial services.
The alleged whistleblower described circumstances “indicative of a very chaotic environment” in which at least one documented safety concern went unaddressed for months. The person further said information from traffic crashes involving the company’s vehicles was hidden from employees who worked on critical safety systems.
Based on those experiences, clusters of vehicles getting stuck at intersections, and discussions with fellow employees, the person wrote, “employees generally do not believe we are ready to launch to the public, but there is fear of admitting this because of expectations from leadership and investors.”
Cruise is majority owned by General Motors.
A spokesperson for the CPUC said the agency is “looking into the concerns raised in the letter,” though did not say whether commissioners were aware of its existence when they voted on June 2 to approve Cruise’s application to begin commercial service.
Nor did the agency say whether it had verified the anonymous letter was, in fact, a Cruise employee. The person had written they could assist in verifying employment status and identity. Automotive News reached out to the anonymous writer, but they did not return a request for comment.
The CPUC’s review was first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.
Cruise says the company has a transparent relationship with both the CPUC and other regulatory bodies and that their executives meet with regulatory representatives on a frequent and ongoing basis.
“Our safety record is tracked, reported and published by multiple government agencies,” said Drew Pusateri, a Cruise spokesperson. “We’re proud of it and it speaks for itself.”
Knowledge of the letter’s existence comes amid a spate of incidents involving Cruise robotaxis operating in San Francisco.
In April, a San Francisco police officer pulled over a Cruise vehicle because it drove at night without its headlights on. Then the vehicle repositioned itself before the traffic stop was complete. Later that month, a Cruise vehicle blocked the path of a San Francisco Fire Department fire truck en route to a blaze, slowing its response to a fire that resulted in injuries.
In June, one of the company’s robotaxis was involved in a crash that resulted in injuries, prompting an investigation from federal safety regulators. On June 28, several Cruise vehicles clustered at an intersection and blocked traffic until they were removed by employees.
In the letter, the alleged whistleblower said those clustering incidents, known internally as Vehicle Retrieval Events or VREs, happen with regularity.
The person wrote they have direct knowledge of these incidents and that, while sometimes they can be solved with remote assistance, “there have been some cases where fallback systems have also failed and it was not possible to remotely maneuver the vehicle outside of the lanes they were blocking until they were physically towed from their location to a facility.”
Beyond those incidents, the person wrote that a documented safety concern went unaddressed for six months, suggesting that a process they thought would take days to address instead “would remain in triage indefinitely.”
That firsthand experience stood in contrast to aspirational safety goals set by Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt, who the anonymous letter writer said encouraged workers to share safety-related concerns. Signs posted throughout the company’s office further encouraged workers to use internal processes for relaying safety issues.
The person wrote they believed the company’s approach was not “consistent with a safety-first culture.”
Pusateri, the Cruise spokesperson, said 94 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “Safety is a top priority here” in an April 2022 internal survey of more than 2,000 Cruise employees.