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San francisco robotaxi expansion: Cruise crash injures 1 and other mishaps

People watch San Francisco police officers troubleshooting two Cruise cars stuck on 30th Avenue after Day One of Outside Lands on Aug. 11, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

At least three traffic incidents involving robotaxis occurred in San Francisco this week, according to multiple news and social media reports, shortly after the state granted approval for autonomous vehicle companies to expand their operations throughout the city and start charging money for rides.

One crash Thursday night injured a passenger inside a Cruise driverless car at Polk and Turk streets. The robotaxi was hit by a fire engine as it entered the intersection on a green light at around 10 p.m. Thursday, according to a tweet from Cruise early Friday. The fire engine was on its way to an emergency scene. Cruise's tweet said the injuries were not severe, but the robotaxi passenger was taken to a local hospital.

In a separate blog post, Cruise said their car detected that an emergency vehicle was approaching and began to brake, but was unable to stop before the fire truck crashed into it.

The San Francisco Fire Department declined to comment.

A second crash happened in the Mission at 26th and Mission streets early Friday, according to Cruise and San Francisco police.

In response to the crash, a Cruise spokesperson said, “Last night one of our vehicles was proceeding through a green light at 26th and Mission in San Francisco when it was struck by another vehicle running a red light at a high rate of speed. The AV detected the vehicle and braked, but the other vehicle made contact with our AV. There were no passengers in our AV and the driver of the other vehicle was treated and released at the scene.”

San Francisco police also confirmed the crash and said that they responded to a report of a crash at 26th and Mission at 12:19 a.m. Friday. There, they found an adult male driver, a passenger, and their car as well as an autonomous vehicle. The driver was treated for non-life-threatening injuries by medics, police said.

Police said there was significant damage to both vehicles after the crash and said that the male driver was at fault, but that drugs or alcohol did not appear to be a factor.

Separately, another Cruise vehicle also drove into wet concrete in a construction area and got stuck on Golden Gate Avenue between Fillmore and Steiner streets in the Western Addition on Tuesday, according to SFGATE.

Cruise acknowledged the incident in a tweet Thursday.

There have been other high-profile incidents with Cruise robotaxis prior to this week.

Just a day after the state approved the expansion of robotaxi services in the city, nearly a dozen Cruise vehicles stalled and snarled traffic in San Francisco's North Beach and near Outside Lands music festival. Cruise blamed the music festival for the snafu.

There have also been issues with Cruise autonomous vehicles interfering with active emergency scenes, with some San Francisco firefighters resorting to smashing windows on driverless cars to get them out of the way.

Because of these problems, the city attorney has asked the state to halt the expansion approved earlier this month by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates robotaxis. City Attorney David Chiu said in a statement Thursday that robotaxis are “not yet safe” and that they have interfered with first responders during emergencies.

Regarding Thursday's crash that injured a Cruise passenger, Cruise issued an apologetic-sounding tweet.

"Our primary concern is the rider and their welfare, and we have reached out to offer support. We are also deeply mindful of the well-being of the first responders and any individuals affected by this incident," Cruise said. "We are investigating to better understand our AVs performance, and will be in touch with the City of San Francisco about the event."

The San Francisco Police Department confirmed the Thursday crash involving a fire engine, saying police responded to Turk and Polk streets around 10:23 p.m. Thursday to a report of a crash involving the fire department and a Cruise vehicle, and that the sole passenger inside the robotaxi was transported to a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Police also said that the fire engine involved was operating in a “'Code 3'” emergency mode," meaning that the fire engine's lights, including a forward-facing steady red light and siren, were activated. 

This story has been updated with information from police about the collision in the Mission and which vehicle was at fault.