Shortly: Autonomous vehicle giant Cruise has denied allegations that two of its self-driving taxis prevented an ambulance from leaving the scene of an accident in which a pedestrian was struck by a car. The person later died in hospital.
A report from the San Francisco Fire Department (via The New York Times) states that on August 14, two driverless Cruise vehicles stopped in the right two lanes of a four-lane one-way street in the SoMa neighborhood where the victim was found. A police vehicle in a different lane also had to be moved to allow the ambulance to depart.
The Cruise vehicles reportedly delayed the ambulance on its way to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, about 2.4 miles away. The patient died 20-30 minutes after arriving at the medical facility.
“This delay, no matter how minimal, contributed to a poor patient outcome […] “The fact that Cruise’s autonomous vehicles continue to block access to critical emergency calls is unacceptable,” the SF Fire Department wrote.
Just a few weeks ago, a fleet of Cruise vehicles got stuck in the middle of three streets in San Francisco, causing a massive traffic jam.
Hello @fricolive415 – A major festival experienced Wi-Fi bandwidth limitations, resulting in delayed connectivity to our vehicles. We are actively investigating and working on solutions to prevent this from happening again. We apologize to those affected.
– Cruise (@Cruise) August 12, 2023
General Motors subsidiary Cruise said the latest incident was not its fault. The company shared footage with the NYT that appeared to show one of its vehicles moving away from the scene before the victim was loaded into the ambulance. The other Cruise vehicle stayed in the right lane until the ambulance drove away.
“The first vehicle immediately clears the area as soon as the light turns green, and the other vehicle keeps in lane to avoid first responders directing traffic,” a Cruise spokesman wrote in a statement. “During the entire duration that the AV is halted, traffic remains free and flows to the right of the AV. The ambulance behind the AV was given free rein to get past the AV while other vehicles, including the ambulance, did so. As soon as the victim was loaded into the ambulance, the ambulance immediately left the scene of the accident and was never stopped by the AV.
The ambulance passed the stopped Cruise vehicle about 90 seconds after the victim was loaded on board.
The fire service said this is just one of more than 70 incidents where autonomous vehicles have hindered emergency responders.
“In such cases, seconds and minutes can make the difference between someone bleeding to death or being resuscitated after a heart attack or other emergency,” said Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “And it’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when.'”
The incident comes just four days after the California Public Utilities Commission allowed autonomous vehicle makers to extend robotaxis operating hours to 24/7 while charging for the rides.
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— Safe Street Rebel (@SafeStreetRebel) July 11, 2023
Anti-car activists protested the Cruise and Waymo vehicles in San Francisco in July with a “cone week,” in which protesters crippled autonomous taxis by placing traffic cones on their hoods. A video by the responsible group pointed out that AVs block buses, emergency vehicles and everyday traffic. It has also been claimed that the companies behind it are working with the police to record everyone constantly and without their consent. Most importantly, the vehicles need roads designed for cars, not people or public transit.