San Francisco firefighters during the rescue of a victim of the incident involving the autonomous car. SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPT (via REUTERS)
A woman has been in critical condition since Monday night at a San Francisco hospital after being the victim of a traffic incident involving an unmanned car. Cruise, the company that operates these vehicles in the city, said the woman was first hit by a self-driving car. The blow pushed her towards the trajectory of the autonomous unit, which ended up overwhelming her. Emergency crews had to rescue her by lifting the robotaxi. This has become the latest episode that has already subjected to debate the importance of these vehicles and that has already reduced its presence after a couple of accidents occurred in August.
The incident occurred around 21:30 p.m. local time at the intersection of Cinco and Market streets, a busy area of San Francisco. According to a statement released by Cruise, the woman crossed the street over the zebra crossing. The green light gave way to cars, which had waited at the parallel traffic light. Cruise's taxi in the right lane and the other green vehicle in the left. He hit the woman with a "severe impact" that threw her in the direction of the taxi path, which was empty. "The autonomous car braked aggressively to minimize the blow," the company says. The woman's legs were caught in the rear axle of the car, according to a photograph taken by a witness. The driver of the vehicle fled and at the request of the police, the automaton vehicle remained at the site.
Firefighters responding to the emergency used special tongs to rescue the victim. Rescuers blocked the unit's sensors, allowing the Cruise control center to immediately shut down the unit.
The company says it is working with authorities to find the person responsible for the incident. The San Francisco Chronicle has been able to review videos provided by Cruise that corroborate the account of events. The images, however, have not been made public, as they are part of the police investigation. The victim was admitted to hospital with several injuries. On Tuesday morning, his condition remained critical.
This isn't the first time Cruise's vehicles have come under the spotlight. The company was forced to reduce the number of units in operation after a couple of incidents in August. San Francisco mobility authorities reduced the maximum number of units that could operate during the day to 50 from 100. The number of night taxis went from 300 to 150.
One of Cruise's taxis collided Aug. 17 with a fire truck on its way to attend to an emergency. The company explained that the automaton car could not detect in time the rescue vehicle, which was traveling in an oncoming lane to run a red light. A preliminary report said a pair of buildings blocked the unit's cameras. The other incident occurred that same Thursday night after a car with a driver ran a traffic light and hit a cruise without passengers.
Just days before those two incidents, Cruise and its competitor, Waymo, had received the go-ahead from regulators to offer the service 24 hours a day. The permit placed no limits on the number of cars or mileage that taxis could register. Cruise's 300 vehicles was only a small fraction compared to the more than 10,000 units Uber and Lyft have in San Francisco.
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