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Person dies after Cruise robotaxi blocks San Francisco ambulance, fire department says

A Cruise vehicle drives down the road in San Francisco.
A Cruise robotaxi waits at a stoplight on the corner of 10th and Division streets in San Francisco. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

A stalled Cruise robotaxi blocked a San Francisco ambulance from getting a pedestrian hit by a vehicle to the hospital in an Aug. 14 incident, according to first responder accounts. The patient later died of their injuries.

“The patient was packaged for transport with life-threatening injuries, but we were unable to leave the scene initially due to the Cruise vehicles not moving,” the San Francisco Fire Department report, first reported by Forbes, reads. “The fact that Cruise autonomous vehicles continue to block ingress and egress to critical 911 calls is unacceptable.”

But a Cruise spokesperson told The Standard that “we did not impede the vehicle from getting to the hospital,” adding that, “what the fire department said is not accurate.”

The Fire Department accounts say the incident happened in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood at Seventh and Harrison streets, close to a Cruise car depot. The ambulance driver could not quickly leave the scene with a critically injured patient due to the autonomous vehicles blocking the ambulance’s path, the Fire Department report said.

Video from Cruise

Video and other surveillance data gathered by Cruise and reviewed by The Standard showed three Cruise vehicles were present at the scene. Two left the scene but one remained stopped as an ambulance arrived behind it. Cars continued to pass in the lane to the right of the stopped Cruise car. 

“Throughout the entire duration the AV is stopped, traffic remains unblocked and flowing to the right of the AV,” a Cruise spokesperson said in a statement. “The ambulance behind the AV had a clear path to pass the AV as other vehicles, including another ambulance, proceeded to do.”

The video captured by Cruise showed that the ambulance parked behind the Cruise and did not attempt to pass the robotaxi in the rightmost unblocked lane. Instead, responders moved a firetruck to allow the ambulance to pass on the left. The video, which Cruise declined to share publicly, indicates that 90 seconds elapsed between the patient being put on the stretcher and the ambulance leaving the scene. 

The video does not capture the patient being loaded onto the ambulance. A Cruise spokesperson said the company offered to share video footage with San Francisco officials. As of Saturday morning, Cruise said, city officials had not reviewed the footage. It was unclear why.

Cruise, Waymo 24/7 Operations Approved Last Month

Multiple autonomous vehicle companies are operating in San Francisco. It’s unclear which company boasts the best safety record, yet Cruise cars appear to have had more incidents involving injuries, according to publicly available reports from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Waymo and Cruise reported 103 and 68 collisions in San Francisco since Jan. 1, 2022, according to the latest records available from the DMV.

READ MORE: Waymo Robotaxis Crashed More Than Cruise in San Francisco, but Cruise Had More Injuries

Both Cruise and Waymo cleared the last regulatory hurdle toward full driverless deployment at a California Public Utilities Commission hearing in August that allowed both companies to charge for 24/7 driverless rides throughout the city, despite heavy protest from activists and taxi drivers. The state told Cruise to cut its fleet in half after a crash with a fire truck injured a passenger.