Where there’s smoke, there’s an autonomous vehicle blocking a fire

GM’s Cruise and Google’s Waymo are all over San Francisco streets, much to first responders’ displeasure.

San Francisco is on the cutting edge of driverless vehicle tech. One group isn’t pleased about it, per NPR — the city’s first responders.

55 Driverless Vehicle incidents
  • Two weeks ago: Regulators greenlit GM’s Cruise and Google’s Waymo robotaxi expansion in SF, allowing them to serve live, paying customers 24/7.
    • Opposed but overruled: the city’s police and fire departments, which cited dozens of incidents where self-driving cars interrupted rescue operations.
  • One week ago: Right on cue, a Cruise vehicle collided with a fire truck en route to an emergency. (Regulators halved Cruise’s active fleet, pending an investigation.)

What’s going wrong?

Per The Los Angeles Times, robotaxis have:

  • Run through emergency tape, straight into downed electrical wires.
  • Forced a firetruck to back up and reroute to a blaze.
  • Entered an active fire scene, then parked on top of a fire hose.
  • Blocked firehouse driveways. Twice.

Neither company has offered a reason why their vehicles have responded this way, per NPR.

Waymo claims its cars are designed to identify, and yield to, emergency vehicles, among other built-in precautions — like a 24-hour hotline to connect first responders and Waymo staff.

But every second counts in an emergency, and SF Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson says firefighters “cannot be paying attention to an autonomous vehicle when [they’ve] got ladders to throw.”

Things may get more unwieldy soon

Cruise and Waymo has asked the California Public Utilities Commission, which dismissed San Francisco’s first responders’ concerns, to weigh in on expanded testing in more cities, including Los Angeles.

  • SFFD fields ~160k calls per year; LAFD responded to 505k+ calls last year.

Trust the LA residents behind this newsletter: The city’s drivers need no help making the roads absolutely impossible for emergency vehicles.

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