October 4, 2023
Autonomous vehicle company Cruise has found itself at the center of attention in San Francisco after an accident left a seriously injured woman trapped under one of its self-driving taxis.
The incident happened on the evening of Monday, Oct. 2 and while the exact sequence of events is still to be determined, it appears the woman – who at the time of writing remains in a critical condition – was first struck by a regular human-driven vehicle, which propelled her into the path of the Cruise autonomous vehicle.
It then ran her over, stopping on top of her and leaving her pinned down on the ground.
The accident happened at the intersection of Market and Fifth Streets. Local media reports suggest that the woman was on a crosswalk when she was hit by the regular car, being hurled into the path of the Cruise self-driving taxi, which had been traveling in the lane to the right.
This seemed to be confirmed by Cruise’s account on X, formerly known as Twitter, which said: “The initial impact was severe and launched the pedestrian directly in front of the AV.
“The AV then braked aggressively to minimize the impact. The driver of the other vehicle fled the scene, and at the request of the police the AV was kept in place.
“Our heartfelt concern and focus is the wellbeing of the person who was injured and we are actively working with police to help identify the responsible driver.” To that end, the company is understood to have made its video available for analysis.
The injured woman was only freed when San Francisco city firefighters arrived on the scene and were able to lift the car off. A fire department captain told local media that the self-driving taxi came to a halt as soon as it sensed there was something under its rear axle and turned on its hazard lights.
Firefighters then obstructed the sensors of the driverless car to alert the remote Cruise control center, which disabled the vehicle.
Regardless of the circumstances, the incident has only ramped up the debate over the role of self-driving taxis in the city, which has become especially fevered since Cruise, and rival Waymo, were granted permission to significantly expand their operations there by the California Public Utilities Commission in August, despite protests from many individuals and local organizations.
The divisions in the city have been reflected in the coverage of the latest incident, with the San Francisco Chronicle asking: “Did Cruise driverless taxi worsen crash by trapping victim?” and questioning whether the outcome would have been different had a human been at the wheel of the self-driving Chevrolet Bolt.
While both Cruise and Waymo are aggressively promoting the safety benefits of autonomous transport, opponents of the self-driving taxis say they cause congestion and can block first responder vehicles on the way to emergencies.
And Cruise was hit by a further setback in August when the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered it to halve its fleet of self-driving taxis in San Francisco after a couple of accidents.
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