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2 robotaxi crashes in San Francisco put focus on autonomous vehicle safety

Robotaxi crashes in San Francisco draw focus to driverless car safety
Robotaxi crashes in San Francisco draw focus to driverless car safety 03:06

SAN FRANCISCO -- Calls to slow the expansion of robotaxi service grew louder following two overnight crashes in San Francisco. Both involved Cruise driverless cars and one of them collided with a fire engine responding to an emergency.

San Francisco police said that crash happened at around 10:20 pm Thursday night at the intersection of Polk and Turk Streets in the Tenderloin District. Officers said a San Francisco fire truck responding to an emergency collided with the Cruise autonomous cab. There were no injuries to the firefighters but paramedics transported a passenger in the cab to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Investigators said that, even though the driverless taxi had the green light, it was supposed to yield to an emergency vehicle.

Robotaxi Crash
A Cruise driverless taxi collided with a San Francisco Fire Department engine.  KPIX

"The fire engine was operating in Code 3 emergency mode, with lights and sirens. It's really a reminder to everyone you are required to yield whether it's a vehicle driven by a human operator or an autonomous vehicle," said SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Kathryn Winters.

It was unclear why the self-driving car did not yield. Cruise said in a statement it's investigating to better understand the problem.

About two hours later, another Cruise driverless car was struck by Dodge Charger in the Mission District.

Surveillance video obtained by KPIX shows the crash happened at 12:19 a.m. Friday at the intersection of Mission and 26th streets.

San Francisco police said the robotaxi entered the intersection on a green light when the Charger plowed into it.

A Cruise spokesperson said the driverless car detected the Charger before the impact and braked in the intersection.

The crash was so loud Harry Porras heard it from his apartment a block away.

"The Dodge was completely totaled. I mean it was just wiped. There was fluid leaking everywhere. Airbags were all deployed. It seems scary. Fortunately, the (driver) was OK and no injuries," Porras said.

San Franisco police do not believe drugs or alcohol played a role.

"The human-operated vehicle had likely run a red light, resulting in the collision. So, in this case, the autonomous vehicle did not appear to be at fault for the collision," Sgt. Winters said.

The collisions came a day after San Francisco leaders asked state regulators to halt the expansion of robotaxi service in the city.

They said self-driving cars still have a lot of technical bugs and are not ready for primetime.

"I'm against it. I feel like it's just not ready," Porras said. "I don't agree with them. I don't think they're safe and, even if they do promise all of these things, at the end of the day, they're just robots and they're eventually going to mess up, too."

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