Self-driving taxis blocked an ambulance and the patient died, San Francisco fire department says

SFFD says the delay 'contributed' to the 'poor outcome.' Vehicle maker Cruise denies the claim.
San Francisco Fire Department officials claim two Cruise taxis blocked potentially life-saving medical attention. DepositPhotos

Two self-driving taxis blocked an ambulance on its way to a hospital, potentially contributing to the patient’s death, according to a San Francisco Fire Department report obtained by Forbes. The incident involving two Cruise vehicles occurred on August 14, just four days after state regulators approved 24/7 public availability of autonomous cab services in the city.

[Related: “Cruise’s self-driving taxis are causing chaos in San Francisco.”]

Emergency responders arrived around 10:45 PM at the scene of an accident involving a critically-wounded pedestrian, the report states. While there, however, the Cruise autonomous taxis occupied two lanes of a four-lane, one-way street, forcing a police vehicle in a separate lane to move to make space for the ambulance to leave. 

“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,” reads a portion of the official report. “This delay, no matter how minimal, contributed to a poor [patient] outcome… The fact that Cruise autonomous vehicles continue to block ingress and egress to critical 911 is unacceptable.”

Cruise representatives dispute the SFFD report, instead claiming the fleet vehicles did not hamper medical treatment in any way. “The ambulance behind the [autonomous vehicle] had a clear path to pass the AV as other vehicles, including another ambulance, proceeded to do,” a Cruise spokesperson told PopSci. “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.” In footage provided to The NY Times, EMS maneuvered around a Cruise vehicle roughly 90 seconds after loading the victim into the ambulance.

Public documents obtained by Forbes detail over 70 instances since April 2022 of autonomous vehicles allegedly obstructing a variety of emergency responses—including fires, and restoring electrical services. Despite months of pushback from many residents and city officials, California regulators approved the public usage of autonomous taxi services like Cruise and Waymo in San Francisco last month. Within days of the greenlight, however, the autonomous vehicles reportedly ran stop signs, produced lengthy traffic jams, and recklessly swerved to avoid pedestrians.

Update 09/05/23 12:50 PM: This article has been updated to include a statement from Cruise.