A pedestrian collision Monday night is likely to provide more fodder for the debate over autonomous vehicles and how they react to certain uncommon situations — and it has Cruise once again in aggressive defense mode.
A female pedestrian who was allegedly in the middle of Fifth Street when the traffic light at Market Street turned green was struck by a human driver's car and subsequently knocked into the path of a Cruise autonomous vehicle (AV) driving alongside it. This all happened around 9:30 p.m., as KTVU reports, and the driver who first struck the woman fled the scene and has not yet been located.
The Cruise vehicle, apparently after stopping quickly and sensing something under its tires, stopped and turned its hazards on. Meanwhile, the car was reportedly on top of the woman's leg as she screamed in pain, according to witnesses who spoke to the Chronicle. The car's rear tire was still on the woman's leg when first responders arrived, and after the AV was disabled by Cruise, the jaws of life were used to life the car off the woman.
A delivery person on a bike, Austin Tutone, told the Chronicle that he ran to the woman's aid. "I told her, 'The ambulance is coming' and that she’d be okay. She was just screaming," Tutone said.
According to a statement from SFFD Captain Justin Schorr, the woman was transported to SF General with "multiple traumatic injuries," and she was listed in critical condition as of Tuesday morning.
At approximately 9.35 PM, 911 dispatchers in San Francisco received a report of an pedestrian trapped under a driverless @Cruise vehicle at the intersection of Fifth and Market Streets.— Whole Mars Catalog (@WholeMarsBlog) October 3, 2023
Rescuers arrived to find a victim underneath the rear axle of the vehicle and affected… pic.twitter.com/g74ZZ3cbr7
Cruise shared dashcam video of the incident with local reporters but said it would not be sharing it publicly.
Cruise put out a statement saying, "A human-driven vehicle struck a pedestrian while traveling in the lane immediately to the left of a Cruise AV. 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."
Whether or not the AV was at fault in the situation, or should have reacted differently to a pedestrian underneath it, remains to be debated. But unquestionably, the image of an AV with its hazard lights on, on top of a screaming woman, is going to be hard for the industry to shake.
The Twitter account FriscoLive415 posted video of the aftermath, with the Cruise vehicle's hazard lights still blinking.
The Chronicle notes that House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Kevin Mullin sent a recent letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expressing their concerns about how data on AVs was being tracked, and about recent reports from the SFPD and SFFD about AVs obstructing the right of way in emergencies.
"As sophisticated as such software is becoming, AVs on the streets of San Francisco, which we both represent, have been having challenges in addressing complex real-world situations, such as navigating road work zones and reacting to the temporary outage of signals," Pelosi and Mullin said. "When AVs malfunction, they frequently shut down in place, which has resulted in the vehicles obstructing public transit routes, blocking intersections and the normal flow of traffic, and preventing first responders from reaching people in need."
Meanwhile, a movement is afoot, with City Attorney David Chiu and the SF Board of Supervisors pushing back on the CA Public Utilities Commission's recent decision to allow Cruise and its competitor Waymo to expand taxi services in San Francisco without limits. The CA DMV subsequently ordered Cruise to cut the size of its AV fleet in San Francisco by half, following several highly publicized incidents, including one in which a passenger was injured when the Cruise vehicle allegedly failed to properly yield to a fire truck responding to a call.
Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt recently gave comments at TechCrunch Disrupt that "we cannot expect perfection" from the self-driving cars, and he said if too much resistance continues politically, the company could just leave SF altogether.
Photo via SFFD