Cruise AVs allegedly disrupt medical care in San Francisco

According to the city's fire safety officials, two driverless cars delayed an ambulance transporting an injured man to the nearest hospital.
Jijo Malayil
A driverless car from Cruise
A driverless car from Cruise


As Cruise and Waymo began to offer commercial driverless car services in San Fransisco, numerous instances of such autonomous vehicles blocking traffic have surfaced in the last few weeks. On August 10, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowed both firms to charge fees for journeys at any time of day after a 3-to-1 vote.

In an incident that attracted a lot of attention, on August 14, two AVs from Cruise reportedly blocked a critically injured man from being transported to a hospital for medical care, according to San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) officials who spoke to Forbes

The man was found to be bleeding heavily after he was hit by a car in the Market neighborhood of San Francisco. The alleged delay may have cost the man his life as SFFD records confirmed that the person succumbed to injuries sustained 20 to 30 minutes after getting admitted to a local hospital adjacent to the accident scene. 

According to Forbes, the AV firm owned by General Motors has denied the allegations regarding the delay caused by its vehicles. A video submitted by the firm showed how one of its AVs left the scene soon after the accident and the other one halted on the road, which had a traffic lane moving for the ambulance to make its way to the emergency center.

Frequent issues

In a hearing preceding the CPUC's approval for Waymo and Cruise to start full-fletched commercial operations, San Francisco's fire department, police department, and municipal transportation agency compiled a report of at least 600 incidents involving driverless vehicles since June 2022.

These incidents included unpredictable operations close to an emergency response zone, impeding access to an emergency, contact or near-misses with people or equipment, and more. Since the approval on August 10, SFFD has reported nearly 12 incidents involving AVs delaying their emergency response.

In a recent episode, a Cruise AV collided with a firetruck at an intersection at Polk Street in San Francisco on August 17. Immediately after, the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the firm to reduce its fleet from 400 to 200 while it investigates the incident.

The company claimed in a statement that the "specific intersection makes visual identification more challenging – for humans and AVs alike – as it is significantly occluded by buildings." The firm added that the emergency vehicle was in the oncoming lane of traffic, which it had entered to go through the red light, making it difficult for the AV to track the emergency car's course correctly.

Claiming that such incidents are rare, Cruise claimed that more than 168,000 encounters with emergency vehicles occurred alone in the first seven months of this year during the more than 3 million miles of completely autonomous driving in San Francisco.

Cruise and Waymo currently have a combined fleet of 500 autonomous vehicles in the San Francisco area. The firms plan to expand significantly to cater to the growing demand for such services after the CPUC approval. Currently, Cruise services are restricted to 35 miles per hour (56 kph) and not allowed to operate when the weather conditions are not ideal, while Waymo can operate up to speeds of 65 miles per hour (104 kph).

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