VIDEO: Driverless Cruise car struck by SF firetruck, injuring passenger, company says

This is the first accident since CPUC gave two driverless car companies the green light to operate

Saturday, August 19, 2023
VIDEO: Driverless Cruise car struck by SFFD truck, injuring 1
Cruise says that one of their driverless cars went through a green light and was hit by a San Francisco firetruck on the way to an emergency scene.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A driverless Cruise car and a firetruck collided in San Francisco late Thursday night, sending one passenger to the hospital.

The crash happened at the intersection of Turk and Polk in the city's Tenderloin district after 10 p.m. The incident was immediately called in: "Yeah, can you dispatch a battalion chief? We've been involved in an accident versus a Cruise vehicle. There was one person in the vehicle."

As seen in multiples videos, the firetruck was apparently headed southbound but had moved into the northbound lane, something trucks do to get around other cars.

One of the firefighters involved in the accident told police what he claims the Cruise vehicle did at the intersection.

He says: "It looked like it lurched."

RELATED: San Francisco asks CPUC to pump brakes on robotaxi expansion, or city may 'suffer serious harm'

Cruise posted on social media Friday morning that one of their cars entered the intersection on a green light and was struck by an emergency vehicle on the way to an emergency scene.

One passenger was in the car, who Cruise says was treated for non-severe injuries.

"We are investigating to better understand our AVs performance, and will be in touch with the City of San Francisco about the event," Cruise posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The company posted that its primary concern is the rider and their welfare, saying they're mindful of the first responders and anyone affected by the incident.

The California Vehicle Code says it is illegal in California not to yield the right of way to an emergency vehicle approaching with its lights and sirens.

MORE: San Francisco officials consider action against CPUC's decision for 24/7 robotaxi rides

San Francisco officials are considering action against CPUC's decision for allowing Waymo and Cruise to offer 24/7 paid rides.

But here's where the human element comes into play. When someone is driving and hears sirens or sees emergency light, they don't move the vehicle, even if they have the green light.

Still, that doesn't mean the fire department gets a pass. It's the fire department's responsibility to make sure that the intersection is free and clear.

We took a video Friday afternoon just as a fire truck was driving by at precisely the same intersection. Cars had already pulled over and stopped. The fire truck moved to the wrong side of the road to get past them. As the truck moved through the intersection, it moved back into its lane right before going by a Cruise vehicle which by the way, did not immediately stop like its supposed to. It eventually came to a complete stop but only after the fire truck has passed it.

Friday afternoon, the mayor called for a meeting at City Hall to hear from the Fire chief. We were there.

"I can't talk right now, I'm going to a meeting, said Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson who said the matter is "under investigation."

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Board President Aaron Peskin has cautioned this could happen. He too was at that meeting.

"It was just a matter of time. I'm waiting for the police to determine fault," said Peskin.

This collision happened about a week after CPUC voted to allow Cruise and Waymo to expand robotaxi services in the city, allowing them to charge for driverless rides around the clock.

These types of incidents are the reason some oppose the expansion.

The San Francisco Fire Chief has been vocal about opposing expanding robotaxi service in the city and San Francisco officials are calling on California regulators to pump the brakes, citing safety issues.

Waymo will start charging for rides 24/7 on Monday and Cruise is already accepting fares.

After our initial report, Cruise released a statement regarding the crash, in part:

"The AV positively identified the emergency vehicle almost immediately as it came into view, which is consistent with our underlying safety design and expectation. It is worth noting, however, that the confines of this specific intersection make visual identification more challenging - for humans and AVs alike - as it is significantly occluded by buildings, meaning that it is not possible to see objects around the corner until they are physically very close to the intersection.

The AV's ability to successfully chart the emergency vehicle's path was complicated by the fact that the emergency vehicle was in the oncoming lane of traffic, which it had moved into to bypass the red light.

Cruise AVs have the ability to detect emergency sirens, which increase their ability to operate safely around emergency vehicles and accompanying scenes. In this instance, the AV identified the siren as soon as it was distinguishable from the background noise.

The Cruise AV did identify the risk of a collision and initiated a braking maneuver, reducing its speed, but was ultimately unable to avoid the collision."

ABC7 News confirmed late Friday night that Cruise has agreed to a DMV request that the company immediately reduce its fleet of driverless cars by 50% while it investigates "concerning incidents."

With the request, Cruise will have no more than 50 driverless vehicles in operation during the day and 150 driverless vehicles in operation at night.

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