Blocked Traffic, Disrupted Firefighters: Why San Francisco Wants to Slow Robotaxi Rollout
“San Francisco is trying to slow the expansion of robotaxis,” reports NBC News, “after repeated incidents in which cars without drivers stopped and idled in the middle of the street for no obvious reason, delaying bus riders and disrupting the work of firefighters.”

The city’s transportation officials sent letters this week to California regulators asking them to halt or scale back the expansion plans of two companies, Cruise and Waymo, which are competing head-to-head to be the first to offer 24-hour robotaxi service in the country’s best-known tech hub.
The outcome will determine how quickly San Francisco and possibly other cities forge ahead with driverless technology that could remake the world’s cities and potentially save some of the 40,000 people killed each year in American traffic crashes…. Neither vehicles from Cruise or Waymo have killed anyone on the streets of San Francisco, but the companies need to overcome their sometimes comical errors, including one episode last year in which a Cruise car with nobody in it slowly tried to flee from a police officer.

In one recent instance documented on social media and noted by city officials, five disabled Cruise vehicles in San Francisco’s Mission District blocked a street so completely that a city bus with 45 riders couldn’t get through and was delayed for at least 13 minutes. Cruise’s autonomous cars have also interfered with active firefighting, and firefighters once shattered a car’s window to prevent it from driving over their firehoses, the city said….

“A series of limited deployments with incremental expansions — rather than unlimited authorizations — offer the best path toward public confidence in driving automation and industry success in San Francisco and beyond,” three city officials wrote Thursday in a letter to the utilities commission, the state agency that decides if a company gets a robotaxi license. A second letter expressed concerns about Waymo….

Cruise has argued that its service is safer than the status quo.
A Cruise spokesperson also provided letters of support “written by local San Francisco merchants associations, disability advocates and community groups.” And U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Quartz last year that “it would be hard to do worse than human drivers when it comes to what we could get to theoretically with the right kind of safe autonomous driving.”

But in 2021 CBS reported that dozens and dozens of Waymo’s robo-taxis kept mistakenly driving down the same dead-end street. And in 2018 a self-driving Uber test vehicle struck and killed a woman in Arizona.

More stories from the Verge:
In July, a group of driverless Cruise vehicles blocked traffic for hours after the cars inexplicably stopped working, and a similar incident occurred in September. Meanwhile, a driverless Waymo vehicle created a traffic jam in San Francisco after it stopped in the middle of an intersection earlier this month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into Cruise last December over concerns about the vehicles blocking traffic and causing rear-end collisions with hard braking… [San Francisco] city officials also express concern over the way driverless vehicles deal with emergency vehicles. Last April, officials say an autonomous Cruise vehicle stopped in a travel lane and “created an obstruction for a San Francisco Fire Department vehicle on its way to a 3 alarm fire….”

Other incidents involve Cruise calling 911 about “unresponsive” passengers on three separate occasions, only for emergency services to arrive and find that the rider just fell asleep…. Officials say companies should be required to collect more data about the performance of the vehicles, including how often and how long their driverless vehicles block traffic.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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