SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Two driverless Cruise cars blocked a street and delayed an ambulance transporting a critically injured pedestrian to a hospital, according to the San Francisco Fire Department. The pedestrian, who had been struck by a car on Harrison and 7th streets, died after reaching the hospital.
More than a dozen incidents in which Cruise and Waymo’s self-driving cars interfered with emergency responders were detailed in SFFD records obtained and published by Forbes on Friday.
Firefighters said two stalled Cruise cars caused the ambulance to be delayed on August 14 while the pedestrian was bleeding heavily from “significant left lower extremity injuries.”
“When we arrived at scene, the only open lanes for egress from the call were blocked by two Cruise vehicles that had stopped and were not moving or leaving the scene. We were unable to leave the scene initially due to the Cruise vehicles not moving. This delay, no matter how minimal, contributed to a poor patient outcome,” the SFFD records state.
The pedestrian died between 20 -30 minutes after arriving at the hospital. “In any significant traumatic event, time is of the essence … to give them the best possible chance at survival,” SFFD records state.
Cruise released a statement to KRON4 on Saturday that refuted firefighters’ account of what happened on August 14 with its autonomous vehicles.
The company’s spokesperson wrote, “Two Cruise AVs encountered an active emergency scene at an intersection in which a pedestrian had been hit by a human driven car. 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 another ambulance, proceeded to do. 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.”
On August 18, after a driverless Cruise car and fire engine collided, the tech company highlighted data showing how many times its cars encounter emergency vehicles without any problems. “During the course of more than 3 million miles of fully autonomous driving in San Francisco, we’ve seen an enormous number of emergency vehicles — more than 168,000 interactions just in the first seven months of this year alone,” the company wrote.
Firefighters say Cruise vehicles are becoming ‘more aggressive’
Another incident happened on April 26 when an autonomous vehicle attempted to “squeeze past” a fire engine and a battalion chief’s vehicle on Fillmore Street, SFFD records state.
When a firefighter stepped in front of the driverless Cruise car, “it honked at us and completely froze, blocking any through traffic. There were three passengers in the backseat who were unable to control the vehicle,” a firefighter wrote.
A Cruise employee was eventually able to remotely guide the car past emergency vehicles.
“As these autonomous vehicles are learning traffic patterns, they have become more aggressive with first responder units and their attempts to navigate around them,” the firefighter wrote.
On its company website, Cruise detailed its honking philosophy.
The company wrote, “As we considered how we would teach our AV to honk, we thought about what kind of driver we wanted to be on the road. The answer: our AVs should be confident, careful, and responsible drivers. Using the driverless road data we collected, we identified the use cases in which honking would help us avoid collisions. We then designed our AV to use a timely honk in these types of situations.”
Cruise cars use a “quick, double-chirp honk … both friendly and attention-grabbing,” the company wrote.
Waymo stops on I-280
A San Francisco Fire Department vehicle was responding Code-3 with its emergency lights activated on Interstate-280 when a Waymo car suddenly stopped on the freeway, records show. Firefighters said when they turned off their Code-3 lights, the Waymo vehicle resumed driving.
“As we were responding to an incident using freeway 280, we approached a driverless vehicle with our lights on. The vehicle stopped on the freeway. We switched off our c3 lights to allow the vehicle to proceed. A car that comes to a stop on the freeway poses great hazard to oncoming traffic,” a firefighter wrote.
Cruise cars tangled in MUNI lines during storm
During an intense winter storm on March 21, SFFD Engine 41 responded to multiple calls of toppled trees and electrical wires along Clay Street. Storm-battered trees ripped down high-voltage wires used by the Muni trolley.
Muni workers de-energized the lines. Engine 41’s crew blocked off multiple intersections with caution tape to keep traffic from entering streets with low-hanging Muni wires.
Two Cruise driverless vehicles drove up Clay Street, went past the caution tape, and struck a low-hanging Muni wire, according to SFFD. After becoming entangled, the Cruise cars stopped.
Two Cruise employees arrived on scene to detangle the vehicles, SFFD records show.
“This incident raises many serious concerns about the safety of these Cruise driverless vehicles. The vehicle failed to recognize the large gauge Muni line hanging in its path. If this wire had still been ‘hot’ this would have been much more hazardous. It is also of note that the vehicle did not recognize when it hit the heavy wire, or that it was being dragged on its roof top, for half a block,” a firefighter wrote.
You can’t drive our cars, Waymo tells firefighters
Firefighters are not allowed drive Waymo’s cars, according to SFFD records. On April 29, a crew was responding to a medical emergency on Tioga Road at 1:29 a.m. Firefighters said they encountered a Waymo rideshare vehicle with a passenger passed out in the backseat.
“The passenger was finally awakened and was able to open the door. The passenger, who had a smell of (alcohol), declined any medical attention,” records state. After the passenger left, the SFFD crew was able to gain access to the driver’s seat and call a Waymo technician.
“The Waymo vehicle was blocking a narrow street and we needed access to the car to move it. The Waymo representative stated that we were not granted access to move the car, and that a technician needed to come out and move the car,” records state.