San Francisco officials warn of safety dangers caused by driverless vehicles

It’s emerged firefighters in San Francisco were forced to break a driverless vehicle’s windows in order to get it moved from across a hose being used to fight a fire in the city last month.

The event has been detailed in a joint letter from Directors at the city’s Municipal and County Transportation departments, and the Mayor’s Office on Disability.

They are voicing concerns about the safety of having more driverless vehicles on the roads which could affect safety, and put firefighters and citizens in danger.

“The Cruise AV entered the area of active firefighting and approached fire hoses on the ground,” they write about what happened on 21 January. “Firefighters on the scene made efforts to prevent the Cruise AV from driving over their hoses and were not able to do so until they shattered a front window of the Cruise AV. It is essential that AVs be able to recognise active fire scenes and avoid all firefighting apparatus – including, as required by the California Vehicle Code, fire hoses.”

This is not the only occurrence of its type that they talk about, also mentioning that, “On June 12, 2022, a Cruise AV ran over a fire hose that was in use at an active fire scene. Section 21708 of the California Vehicle Code provides that “No person shall drive or propel any vehicle or conveyance upon, over, or across, or in any manner damage any fire hose or chemical hose used by or under the supervision and control of any organised fire department . . . .”

The letter to California’s Public Utilities Commission responded to GM-owned Cruise and Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s owner Alphabet, to increase driverless operations. The letter warns that the number of similar incidents is “likely to expand” if approved.

Furthermore the letter talks about other events where driverless vehicles caused traffic disruption, including one where five Cruise vehicles blocked transit only lanes.

“The image [pictured, courtesy of SFMTA] illustrates that two Cruise AVs are stopped in the red southbound transit only lane; two Cruise AVs are stopped in the southbound lane to the left of the transit only lane; and one Cruise AV is stopped across the double yellow centre line in the opposing northbound travel lane,” the letter reads. “In some cases, transit buses can move around a disabled Cruise AV. In this case, there was no possibility for the bus to manoeuvre around the five disabled Cruise AVs.”

Read the full letter here.

Waymo told the website Business Insider, “These letters are a standard part of the regulatory process, and we have long appreciated a healthy dialogue with city officials and government agencies in California. Waymo will have the opportunity to reply in our submission to the CPUC next week. Beyond that, we look forward to discussing these issues through our continued partnership with public stakeholders.”

(Picture – San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency)


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