On August 14th, a tragic incident occurred in San Francisco involving two driverless taxi operated by Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors. According to a report from the San Francisco Fire Department, these driverless taxi blocked the path of an ambulance carrying a critically injured patient, ultimately leading to the patient’s unfortunate demise at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, located approximately 2.4 miles from the accident site.
The incident took place in the SoMa neighbourhood, where the victim had been struck by another vehicle. The report details that two Cruise autonomous vehicles had come to a stop in the right two lanes of a four-lane, one-way street. To facilitate the ambulance’s departure, a police vehicle in another lane had to be relocated.
This delay in transportation and medical care had severe consequences, as the patient’s condition deteriorated during the wait. Regrettably, the patient was pronounced dead approximately 20 to 30 minutes after reaching the hospital.
Cruise, in response, has asserted that they were not at fault. They provided footage to The New York Times, which appeared to show that one of their vehicles had moved away from the accident scene before the patient was loaded into the ambulance. The other vehicle remained stationary in the right lane until the ambulance departed. The footage also revealed that other vehicles, including another ambulance, had successfully passed the Cruise taxi on the right side during this incident.
“As soon as the victim was loaded into the ambulance, the ambulance left the scene immediately and was never impeded,” the company stated. According to the video footage, the ambulance overtook the stationary Cruise vehicle approximately 90 seconds after the victim was loaded.
Integration of Remote Assistance in Emergency Situations
Cruise revealed that a police officer communicated with one of its employees using remote assistance within the vehicle. The company successfully guided the vehicle away from the scene once the ambulance had departed.
The Fire Department corroborated this account, initially reported by Forbes. The Fire Department’s chief Jeanine Nicholson emphasized the critical importance of time in such situations. She highlighted the issue where responders couldn’t gain access to the patient as a significant concern.
“I have yet to see Cruise taking responsibility for anything,” Ms. Nicholson said, adding that more conversations need to happen.
Cruise and Waymo, which Alphabet backs, Google’s parent company, began to offer driverless taxi services in San Francisco last year. The accident occurred four days after both companies obtained a permit from California state regulators to expand their services to charge for rides at all hours in San Francisco.
Driverless Taxi Troubles: Autonomous Vehicles and Emergency Interference
The Fire Department said the case was one of more than 70 of autonomous vehicles interfering with emergency responders. San Francisco officials have protested the expansion of driverless taxi services since January, pointing to cases where driverless cars blocked emergency vehicles and interfered during active firefighting and crime scenes.
Some city officials have said these incidents are a small fraction of all cases involving driverless cars. The companies must report only collisions to regulators, not other incidents.
Since the introduction of autonomous taxi services, several incidents have been reported involving Cruise vehicles. These incidents included instances where Cruise vehicles blocked traffic and even got stuck in wet cement. Notably, on August 17th, a Cruise vehicle was involved in a collision with a fire truck. In response to these incidents, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, responsible for overseeing the safety of autonomous vehicles, requested Cruise to reduce the number of vehicles they were operating in the city by half while they conducted investigations.
City officials are planning to request a new hearing to expand this service. According to Mr. Peskin, this motion will be filed soon. Additionally, the city attorney David Chiu had previously called upon the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency that approved the service expansion, to halt the plan.