News | August 11, 2023

The California Public Utilities Commission Oks Driverless Expansion Despite Incomplete Safety Record, Says Consumer Watchdog

  • The commission, which didn't uphold its mission statement of providing safety to the public, passed the buck to the DMV
  • A former Cruise lawyer and current CPUC commissioner voted in favor of his former employer

Los Angeles, CA /PRNewswire/ - Following two delayed votes, over six hours of public comment and heavy opposition, the California Public Utilities Commission voted late Thursday to authorize driverless car expansion in the city of San Francisco despite numerous reported safety issues not part of the official record, said Consumer Watchdog.

The resolutions pertaining to GM Cruise and Waymo passed by a vote of 3 to 1, with Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma the lone dissenting vote.

"It's unfortunate the commissioners looked at this issue very narrowly and departed from their own stated mission and values of ensuring public safety," said Justin Kloczko, a tech and privacy advocate for Consumer Watchdog. "They are failing to regulate a dangerous, nascent industry. Los Angeles is next."

Read Consumer Watchdog's letter here. The advocacy group also presented comments during today's meeting. 

Waymo and Cruise vehicles have been abruptly stopping, blocking traffic, flashing wrong turn signals, and impeding emergency responders from doing their jobs.

"The city of San Francisco said there have been over 250 such reported incidents since the beginning of the year. But you wouldn't know it if you asked regulators or the robotaxi companies themselves. They don't have to report such incidents," said Kloczko.

Over the past year, Waymo & Cruise could operate driverless cars throughout the city of San Francisco at all hours, but they couldn't charge fares all the time. Waymo couldn't charge for driverless rides. Cruise could only charge fares in certain parts of the city during overnight hours. With today's vote, the companies can charge for all rides, expand when and where they operate, and add an unlimited number of robotaxis to their fleets. Waymo, for example, can drive up to 65 mph.

Commissioner Shiroma, who asked for a suspension of the vote, said the commission doesn't have a complete record to move forward with the vote. 

"I believe it is premature to vote for these resolutions today," she said, adding Cruise and Waymo must explain why they are making unexpected stops and how they can ensure this doesn't happen in the future. 

"The fact that an injury or fatality hasn't happened yet isn't the end of the inquiry," said Shiroma.

Commissioner John Reynolds, a former Cruise lawyer, argued in favor of expansion. During his remarks, he argued safety was an issue to be regulated not by the CPUC, but by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Commissioner Reynolds should have recused himself from the Cruise vote. Instead he did the bidding of his former corporate employer," said Kloczko.

Commissioner Darcie Houck, who also voted in favor of the resolutions, said the DMV still has the power to revoke a permit if something bad were to happen with the driverless vehicles. 

Chairwoman Alice Reynolds said, "the resolutions before us do support our requirements."

Commissioner Karen Douglas was absent from the vote.

Cruise has yet to turn a profit in its 10-year existence. It lost $611 million during the second quarter this year, according to a recent earnings report. The total loss so far for 2023 is over $1 billion. Despite this Cruise expects to make $1 billion in revenue by 2025

In addition to being dangerous, driverless cars will take away jobs, said the nonprofit advocacy group.

"The CPUC is helping accelerate a massive transfer of wealth away from working people to tech monopolies," said Kloczko.

City departments estimated Waymo vehicles were involved in collisions with injuries reported at a rate 1.3 times higher than the national average of human-driven vehicles. This analysis is based on data that Waymo submitted to federal regulators, the CPUC and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Source: Consumer Watchdog

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