San Francisco Fire Truck Collides with Cruise Robotaxi
Around 10pm Thursday evening, a San Francisco Fire Dept. ladder truck T-boned a Cruise robotaxi, making physical the accelerating battle between the SFFD and the robotaxi companies. Airbags were deployed and a passenger in the Cruise complained of a headache and was taken to hospital.
In a Cruise Blog post, the company reports it heard the sirens and slowed immediately on seeing the vehicle. In addition, the California DMV has asked Cruise to reduce its operations by 50% in light of this crash and other events.
The accident is complex, and there may be potential fault for both vehicles, but mostly for the Fire Department. The Cruise Chevy Bolt was traveling down a one-way street (Turk) going through an intersection with a green light, according to Cruise. The Fire Engine was on call on Polk St. A witness reports it had sirens going. Approaching the red light, the fire truck appears to have moved to the opposite lane to clear traffic and cross the intersection through the red light. Cruise states that this position for the truck ‘complicated’ their tracking of it, though it’s not clear how that affected the situation since they only saw it for a short time.
The intersection has tall buildings at the corners making the corners ‘blind.’ Vehicles on Turk such as the Bolt can’t see an approaching vehicle on Polk, particularly on the right side. The Bolt was also apparently in the right lane, based on the final geometry of the vehicles. The fire truck hit the rear right side of the Bolt, apparently spinning it about 45 degrees, but the fire engine did not travel very far into the intersection in spite of its larger mass.
Fault and Regulations
When an emergency vehicle is running code with a visible light and sirens, other vehicles are required to yield to it and pull off the road as needed. However, this does not mean emergency vehicles can run through red lights and stop signs. The normal red light rules do not apply, but the procedure is for the vehicle to slow, make special sounds (honk or modulate siren) and confirm the intersection is clear, then proceed.
Ideally, the Cruise vehicle should have reacted to sirens and slowed as it came to the crosswalk, where it would have seen the fire engine and stopped. The fire engine should have slowed at its own crosswalk and should have stopped when it saw the Bolt going through the intersection. Neither happened, resulting in a collision. Cruise tweeted that they believed any injuries were non-serious.
While the vehicle should have slowed, it may not be legally required to yield. The California vehicle code requires yielding to an emergency vehicle if it is both sounding sirens and has a visible red light. The lights on this vehicle were apparently not visible until it was close to the intersection. Cruise promotes that it takes extra effort to detect emergency vehicles, so one might argue it should have slowed, by their own standards, but it was probably not legally required to.
Conclusion and Future Procedures
This fire truck collision is a terrible cap to the week due to the conflict between the city and Fire Department of San Francisco and the robotaxi companies. In fact, this particular truck, Engine #3, was spoken about at length during last week’s CPUC hearings as one of the busiest and most important in the country. The reason the Cruise vehicle did not slow earlier is unclear and Cruise has not responded to requests for comment.
It’s less clear if the Fire Dept., if at fault, will need to pay for the damage. Emergency workers are given a special qualified immunity under the law which can remove this liability. That will be a subject for negotiation.
- Under the legal codes, probably the fault of the fire truck.
- The Cruise vehicle, with sirens this loud, should probably have made an effort to slow upon entering the crosswalk so that, once it saw the truck, it could brake in time.
- The Fire Engine should definitely not have entered the intersection without confirming it was clear.
- This is not going to improve relations between Cruise and the SFFD!