A San Francisco Fire Department report revealed that two autonomous taxis operated by Cruise obstructed an ambulance carrying a critically injured car accident victim to the hospital, resulting in the patient’s unfortunate death. Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors specializing in self-driving vehicles, denied any wrongdoing.
On August 14, two Cruise autonomous cars were stationed in the right lanes of a one-way street in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, where the accident occurred. The report indicated that a police vehicle in another lane had to be relocated to allow the ambulance to pass.
The delay caused by the driverless vehicles impacted the patient’s access to medical care, and sadly, the victim, who had been struck by a car, was pronounced dead approximately 20 to 30 minutes after arriving at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, located about 2.4 miles away from the accident scene.
Cruise contended that it was not responsible for the incident. Footage shared by Cruise appeared to show that one of its vehicles had left the scene before the ambulance loaded the victim, while the other remained in the right lane until after the ambulance had departed. The footage also showed other vehicles, including another ambulance, passing by the right side of the stopped Cruise taxi.
Cruise stated that “the ambulance left the scene immediately and was never impeded” by their vehicle once the victim had been loaded. According to the footage, the ambulance passed the stationary Cruise vehicle approximately 90 seconds after loading the victim.
Cruise reported that a police officer communicated with one of its employees through remote assistance within the vehicle, and the company was able to guide it away from the scene after the ambulance left.
The Fire Department confirmed the report, which Forbes initially obtained. Jeanine Nicholson, the Fire Department’s chief, stressed the critical nature of time in such situations and expressed concern that Cruise had not taken responsibility for the incident, emphasizing the need for further discussions.
Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, remarked that regardless of the specific cause of the victim’s death, the overall trend of incidents involving autonomous vehicles was concerning. He asserted that these incidents collectively indicated that autonomous vehicles were not yet ready for widespread use.
Both Cruise and Waymo, backed by Alphabet (Google’s parent company), commenced offering autonomous taxi services in San Francisco the previous year. This accident took place four days after both companies received permits from California state regulators to expand their services, allowing for round-the-clock ride charging in San Francisco.
The Fire Department reported that this case was one among over 70 incidents of autonomous vehicles obstructing emergency responders. Since January, San Francisco officials have raised objections to the expansion of autonomous taxi services, citing instances where self-driving cars impeded emergency vehicles during firefighting and crime scenes.
Some city officials contended that these incidents represented only a small fraction of all incidents involving autonomous cars since companies were only required to report collisions to regulators, not other types of incidents.
Since the expansion of autonomous taxi services began, Cruise vehicles were reported to have caused traffic disruptions and even become stuck in wet cement. On August 17, a Cruise vehicle collided with a fire truck. The following day, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, responsible for autonomous vehicle safety, asked Cruise to reduce the number of vehicles it operated in the city as it conducted investigations into these incidents.
City officials intend to request a new hearing on the service expansion, and David Chiu, the city attorney, had previously called on the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency that approved the expansion, to halt the plan.