The AVs’ ability to predict if a fire truck will drive through an intersection against a red light is among the many enhancements

Graham Hope

October 13, 2023

3 Min Read
GM's Cruise self-driving taxi on a road.
Getty Images

Autonomous driving company Cruise has confirmed it is making changes to its fleet of self-driving taxis to improve their interactions with first-responder vehicles.

The General Motors subsidiary’s autonomous vehicles (AVs) have come under criticism, particularly in San Francisco where the local fire department has been vocal about blockages and delays caused by driverless cabs, citing scores of “disruptive episodes” over the past couple of years.

Now, in a blog post, Cruise has acknowledged the issue and claimed that following discussions with fire officials, police, emergency medical services and other stakeholders, it has come up with some “key innovations” aimed at “minimizing operational impact, quickly exiting emergency scenes, and increasing predictability.”

Among several specific outcomes that the company says are now feasible will be self-driving taxis slowing down earlier than is currently the case when a siren is detected. According to Cruise, they will reduce their speed to 70% of the posted limit, even if the emergency vehicle is not visible.

The AVs’ ability to predict if a fire truck will drive through an intersection against a red light is also being enhanced, as is the capability to detect emergency scenes, which can now be identified “earlier and from farther away.”

Related:GM’s Cruise Autonomous Car Blocks Fire Truck on Emergency Call

In addition, Cruise claimed that the design of its AVs has been improved “to more effectively bypass double-parked emergency vehicles to help prevent the AV from getting stuck behind … and blocking traffic.”

Other upgraded functionalities include enhanced audio detection to detect more diverse siren types and better fire hose and caution tape detection. However, no detail has been provided in terms of how these improvements have been achieved.

Cruise is also making a number of operational modifications that will enable its AVs to get out of the way more quickly in unpredictable scenarios, with its human remote operators having improved capability to assist with routing instructions provided by law enforcement in an emergency.

The operators are also said to now be better equipped to allow first responders access to an AV in an emergency if it has to be manually moved.

While the San Francisco Fire Department has not commented officially on the news, individual members told local media that a collaborative approach was necessary to improve the situation on the city’s roads. Meanwhile, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said: “[We’re] appreciative of our ongoing partnerships with first responders across the US and incredibly proud of the team for this work.”

Related:Self-Driving Taxi Service Pause Requested in San Francisco

Cruise has been on a public relations offensive following negative headlines that saw city attorney David Chiu officially protest against the expansion of the company’s coverage in San Francisco, and then the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the firm to halve its fleet following two crashes in August.

The most recent included recent publication of research which showed that its self-driven taxis are involved in fewer crashes than ride-hailing vehicles driven by humans.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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