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Company refutes claim that self-driving cars blocked California ambulance, led to victim’s death

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — On the night of Aug. 14, a pedestrian was struck by a human-driven vehicle in San Francisco. Authorities are blaming self-driving vehicles in part for the pedestrian’s death.

According to the San Francisco Fire Department, after the pedestrian — who was bleeding heavily from “significant left lower extremity injuries” was loaded into an ambulance, two autonomous Cruise cars stalled and blocked emergency crews from reaching the hospital.

“When we arrived at scene, the only open lanes for egress from the call were blocked by two Cruise vehicles that had stopped and were not moving or leaving the scene. We were unable to leave the scene initially due to the Cruise vehicles not moving. This delay, no matter how minimal, contributed to a poor patient outcome,” the fire department wrote in records obtained and published by Forbes on Friday.

The pedestrian later died after reaching the hospital.

However, Cruise refuted SFFD’s claims in a statement shared with Nexstar’s KRON on Saturday. The company says the ambulance behind the car had a clear path to pass as other vehicles, including another ambulance, proceeded to do.

“On August 14 two Cruise AVs encountered an active emergency scene at an intersection in which a pedestrian had been hit by a human driven car. The first vehicle promptly clears the area once the light turns green and the other stops in the lane to yield to first responders who are directing traffic. Throughout the entire duration the AV is stopped, traffic remains unblocked and flowing to the right of the AV,” the statement reads. “As soon as the victim was loaded into the ambulance, the ambulance left the scene immediately and was never impeded from doing so by the AV.”

Cruise added that SFFD’s claims are “irresponsible to try to shift the blame for this tragic event toward our fleet.”

The autonomous vehicle company has been in communication with SFFD and other local municipal agencies. Cruise said it is trying to show the fire department surveillance footage from the two AVs on the night of Aug. 14.

Cruise showed KRON footage from the night of the incident but, due to Cruise company policy, the footage was not released for public consumption.

There have been more than a dozen incidents in which Cruise and Waymo self-driving cars interfered with emergency responders, according to the SFFD records obtained by Forbes.

On August 18, a driverless Cruise vehicle and a fire engine collided, and on April 26, another Cruise car tried to “squeeze” passed a fire engine and battalion chief’s vehicle. A Waymo driverless vehicle came to a complete stop on a freeway when it detected a fire department’s vehicle with its emergency lights activated, posing a “great hazard to oncoming traffic,” SFFD reported.

Cruise argues that its data shows its autonomous vehicles have encountered emergency crews more than 168,000 times without any problem.

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