The Debate Over Autonomous Taxis in San Francisco

The use of autonomous taxis in San Francisco has sparked a heated debate among residents of the city. Reports of accidents and technology malfunctions involving autonomous vehicles have raised concerns about their safety and reliability.

Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson of the San Francisco Fire Department has called attention to these incidents, stating that she wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t highlight the issues. Instances of autonomous taxis stalling on the streets and colliding with objects and vehicles, including first responders, have been reported.

Cruise, operated by General Motors, and Waymo, owned by Alphabet, are two major players in the autonomous taxi industry in San Francisco. However, both companies declined interviews for this story when approached by Scripps News.

A notable incident involved a collision between a Cruise AV and an emergency vehicle. Cruise released a statement explaining that the vehicle identified the risk of a collision and attempted to initiate a braking maneuver but was ultimately unsuccessful in avoiding the collision. The challenges of navigating a specific intersection were cited as contributing factors.

In May 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission authorized two pilot programs for autonomous vehicle passenger service, one with drivers and the other without. Since then, there have been 532 collisions involving autonomous cars in California, with 252 of those crashes occurring while the vehicle was being fully controlled by a test driver and the remaining 280 crashes happening in autonomous mode.

Despite these incidents, the California Public Utilities Commission voted in August 2023 to expand the operating authority of Cruise and Waymo in San Francisco. Both companies claim that autonomous vehicles are safer than human-operated ones and provide resources for first responders on their websites.

However, some individuals, including Aaron Peskin, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, express concerns about the readiness of the technology to operate in the city. Peskin emphasizes the need for more regulation and a higher safety standard for autonomous vehicles. He also mentions the importance of collaboration between the city, companies like Cruise and Waymo, and state regulators to ensure a rational deployment of the technology.

While the debate over autonomous taxis continues, it remains to be seen how this emerging technology will be regulated and integrated into the urban transportation system of San Francisco.


– NBC Bay Area – Investigation of autonomous vehicle collisions

– Statement from Cruise regarding collision with emergency vehicle