San Francisco Fire Department Chief Jeanine Nicholson notes there have been 39 incidents of Cruise and Waymo robotaxis blocking first responders this year alone, and says the robot cars are "not ready for prime time."

One odd (and technically still unproven) footnote to the mass shooting in the Mission District two weeks ago is the claim that a self-driving Cruise robotaxi vehicle interfered with first responders on the scene. Cruise insists their robotaxi handled things properly, but in video from the scene below, you can hear some unidentified person yelling, “You're blocking emergency, medical, and fire! I’ve got to get it out of here now!” The robot car does not appear to move.

It ain’t the first time, according to the SF Fire Department. The Los Angeles Times reports that there have been 39 incidents of robotaxis somehow hindering the work of first responders in 2023 alone. Mission Local reported last month on a Waymo vehicle that came upon the scene of the massive home explosion that occurred in February on 22nd Avenue in the Sunset. In that incident, an SFPD officer stood in the way of the robocar as it tried to maneuver around him and drive over an active fire hose — "No!" the cop shouted at the car, in a moment captured on a bodyworn camera. "You stay!"

The police "eventually [got] the car shifted into 'park' in the middle of the intersection," Mission Local reported.

Now KGO reports that the SFFD Chief Jeanine Nicholson is up in arms over these dangerous self-driving car glitches.

That station adds that "firefighters are encountering at least one robotaxi every single day."

"The biggest concern is that someone is going to get really severely injured or killed because we cannot properly respond to an incident," Nicholson told KGO. "Or if they can get in the way at an incident. We've really gotten lucky so far, but it's only a matter of time before something really, really catastrophic happens."

In a separate interview with the L.A. Times, Nicholson said of the robotaxis, “They’re not ready for prime time.”

“I’m not against the technology. I understand it’s important and it’s the way the industry is going,” she added. “But we need to fix what’s not working right now, before they are unleashed on the rest of the city.”

Those 39 incidents include the robocars running through emergency tape, not knowing when they are snarled with downed power lines, stopping and blocking fire trucks, and entering active fire scenes, among other offenses.

But the fire department does not have the power to regulate the self-driving car industry, nor does any SF agency or official. That power lies solely with the California DMV and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). And Chief Nicholson will probably not be thrilled that the CPUC will consider handing out even more 24-hour San Francisco robotaxi licenses at their Thursday, June 29 meeting.  

Related SF Regulators Have Had It With Self-Driving Cruise, Waymo Mishaps, Ask State To Halt Expansion [SFist]

Image: via Waymo