Cruise car in Hayes Valley, San Francisco

Cruise in hot seat amid Fire Department’s claims that robotaxis delayed responders in fatal incident

Credit: Cruise

General Motors’ self-driving unit, Cruise, saw protests outside its San Francisco headquarters earlier this week. The protests come amidst the San Francisco Fire Department’s claims that some of the company’s autonomous robotaxis contributed to the tragic death of a pedestrian. 

The incident, which happened on August 14, involved a pedestrian who was hit by a car in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. The pedestrian’s injuries were so severe that there was heavy bleeding, and the person was no longer responding to verbal commands. It was evident that the injured pedestrian needed urgent medical care, so it was pertinent to have the person transported to a hospital as early as possible. 

Public reports from the San Francisco Fire Department that were obtained by Forbes claimed that the behavior of Cruise robotaxis ended up impeding the workflow of emergency responders, so much so that critical medical care was delayed. One of the Fire Department’s reports about the incident reads as follows. 

“On 8/14/2023, I was assigned to Medic 87 and responded to Incident FD23108420, at 7th Street and Harrison, for an auto vs. pedestrian. Harrison Street is 4 lanes of one-way traffic heading westbound. Upon arrival on scene, the victim was found in the (2) left lanes of Harrison Street, suffering from life-threatening injuries. SFPD and E01 had arrived prior to M87’s arrival. SFPD had a vehicle parked in the #1 lane of Harrison, and E01 had positioned its apparatus across the left 2 lanes of Harrison to shield the patient from oncoming traffic. The right 2 lanes of Harrison were blocked by (2) autonomous Cruise vehicles that had stopped and were not moving, blocking ingress and egress to the incident scene. 

“The patient was suffering from life-threatening injuries, with a GCS 3, agonal respirations, and absent peripheral pulses. SFPD had applied a tourniquet to the left lower extremity to stop life-threatening bleeding from injuries sustained after being struck by a vehicle. Ventilations were assisted with a BVM, and the patient was packaged for rapid transport to a trauma center. 

“While loading the patient to the ambulance, the (2) Cruise vehicles were still stopped in the right 2 lanes of Harrison, prohibiting rapid egress from the scene. SFPD had attempted manual takeover of the autonomous vehicles, but were unsuccessful. This contributed to a delay in transport with a critical trauma patient. 

“SFFD members had to locate an SFPD officer and request him to move his vehicle to allow successful egress from the scene, but doing so further delayed patient care. These delays caused by (2) autonomous vehicles blocking a normal egress route from the scene contributed to a poor patient outcome, delaying the definitive care required in severe trauma cases. The patient was pronounced deceased at SFGH approximately 20-30 minutes after arrival due to severe blunt-force trauma.”

Cruise has spoken out against the Fire Department’s account of the event. In a comment to The San Francisco Standard, a Cruise spokesperson noted that “we did not impede the vehicle from getting to the hospital” and “what the fire department said is not accurate.” 

“The first vehicle promptly clears the area once the light turns green and the other stops in the lane to yield to first responders who are directing traffic. Throughout the entire duration the AV is stopped, traffic remains unblocked and flowing to the right of the AV. The ambulance behind the AV had a clear path to pass the AV as other vehicles, including the ambulance, proceeded to do so. As soon as the victim was loaded into the ambulance, the ambulance left the scene immediately and was never impeded from doing so by the AV,” Cruise noted in a statement

Cruise has reportedly provided a video to back up its claims. The video reportedly showed that while one Cruise robotaxi was indeed stopped at an intersection, there was a free lane to its right where traffic was moving. The video, which was reviewed by Forbes, did show numerous vehicles, including a small ambulance, moving through the free lane. However, the publication noted that it was not clear from the footage if the larger SFFD ambulance, which was likely transporting the severely injured pedestrian, could have navigated the area as easily. 

Below are incident reports from the San Francisco Fire Department. The case in question is described in Page 68 and 69 of the document.

Cruise San Francisco Reports by Simon Alvarez on Scribd

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Cruise in hot seat amid Fire Department’s claims that robotaxis delayed responders in fatal incident
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