Robotaxis Behaving Badly After Approval

robo taxi driverless car

A press conference August 23 at the Cruise Autonomous Robotaxi headquarters calling for a halt in the operation of all autonomous vehicles (AVs) on city streets following a number of traffic incidents over the past two weeks implored the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to take immediate action and stop all robotaxis from operating in the city before anyone is killed.

Mark Gruberg of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance (SFTWA) spoke of an East Bay Times editorial that mentioned the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) members, who were hand-picked by Governor Gavin Newsom in approving more robotaxis on city streets as “showing the same incompetence with autonomous vehicles” that they did with the horrific “San Bruno gas-line explosion and the catastrophic Camp Fire tragedy.” The newspaper characterized the commission’s priorities as putting “profits before safety.”

Steve Zeltzer of the Labor Video Project noted that “Newsom received $20 million from Google in 2020” and that the AV experiment is now “out of control.” He went on to say that one group is considering filing an injunction against the DMV for “not having monitored the robotaxis and having abandoned their responsibility. The director of the DMV should be removed from office.” Both Waymo and Cruise along with Zoom are allowed to self-certify their vehicles with no road testing and no review of the cars or their software. Zeltzer stated that they are “endangering Californians’ lives.”

After the CPUC approved the controversial deployment of more robotaxis on August 10, the cars have been involved in several incidents including a collision with a fire truck that injured a passenger. The commission, having been forewarned by activists on numerous occasions that the self-driving vehicles were unreliable and posed a threat to public safety, nonetheless voted 3-1 in favor of adding several thousand more to city streets.

The following evening, ten Cruise driverless cars picking up and dropping off passengers during a music festival blocked the street at an intersection causing traffic havoc and frustration for drivers until a company technician arrived 15 minutes later to resolve the problem.

After its original claim that the traffic SNAFU was related to a “bandwidth” problem, the company reversed itself indicating that the cause was due to a pedestrian who froze the robotaxi in place causing the other Cruise cars on the street to back up behind it.

Four days later a robotaxi encountering a clearly marked street replacement construction zone and flagman drove into fresh cement of the roadbed where it became stuck, much to the delight of many. What could have become a new urban fossil was later extracted. As the area had been coned off, it’s quite possible that the car using AI had learned to avoid cones so as not to become disabled by them as they have been in previous encounters by activists who placed them on the car’s hoods to freeze them in place, an act defined by Cruise, the $30 billion company, as “vandalism.”

One week to the day after approval, a SFFD fire engine responding to a late-night emergency struck a Cruise robotaxi at an intersection when the AV failed to yield to the engine’s lights and siren. A passenger in the driverless car was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. As reported by CNBC, the company characterized the incident in a statement, saying “One of our cars entered the intersection on a green light and was struck by an emergency vehicle that appeared to be en route to an emergency scene.” This is an interesting comment that portends to put the onus of the accident on the fire truck rather than squarely where it belongs with the errant driverless car that failed to yield to an emergency vehicle. Later that same evening, another Cruise vehicle that had stopped in the middle of an intersection was involved in a hit-and-run accident when it was struck by a car traveling at a high rate of speed.

At long last, City Attorney David Chiu filed a motion with the PUC in part calling for them to stay their authorization in deploying any additional robotaxis in the city. Characterizing the PUC’s decision by saying that it “… could result in ‘substantial costs, burdens, and risks to the people and communities’ affected by the decision is sufficient to show the threat of serious or irreparable harm.” The document also correctly noted that “San Francisco’s streets, for reasons of history, geography, and weather, which are some of the nation’s most challenging transportation environments” would be adversely impacted by further deployment of vehicles.

The 84-page document contains 53 pages of incidents experienced by the Fire Department from 2022 to August 10, 2023. There is no mention of any of the cars having been cited by police for their infractions even though the great hue and cry by the companies who promote the AV deployments profess their concern and ability to promote public safety with driverless cars. Clearly, public safety along with that of first responders is at stake. In one of the incident reports regarding a robotaxi blocking a fire engine responding to a call, it is noted on the side margin that “this is becoming a daily issue. These things must be taken off the road. Consider a formal letter to the state requesting an end to the program.”

The day after the collision with the SFFD truck, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requested that Cruise reduce its fleet on city streets by 50% until the final accident investigation is completed. Additionally, they also called on the company to work on improving their road safety. The company has agreed to comply with the DMV request that still allows 50 cars to operate during the day and 150 to roam city streets at night. It was reported, too, that the DMV also warned Cruise that they could “suspend or revoke testing and/or deployment permits if they determine there to be an unreasonable public safety risk.” SFTWA’s Gruberg noted that if a car manufacturer had to correct defects in its vehicles, they wouldn’t remove only half of the defective cars, yet Cruise has been allowed to do so.

It is just this type of hubris that many in the city have grown tired of for being used as guinea pigs by two companies that regard the city as their private open-ended laboratory offering them immunity for traffic violations and other infractions by hoping to cash in on the coming wave of driverless services they envision providing.

This type of abhorrent experimental and illegal behavior raises some scary fundamental questions. One wonders why we need robotaxis at all other than for the sheer profit of investors operating such a service. What will these cars do on the freeway driving at faster speeds with their erratic behavior? Then, too, as the experiment is scaled up and we begin to see semitrucks and trailers joining the foray, how safe will the motoring public be with these massive mountains of computer-guided steel and rubber hurtling down the highways that are susceptible to hacking along with other technical glitches and malfunctions?

As anyone who uses a computer, cell phone or electronic device can tell you, that presents a very scary and frightening look into our future world with vehicles being driven by what one would expect from a driving school dropout.

Photo by Phil Pasquini

(This article has previously appeared Nuzeink.)

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.

© 2023 nuzeink all rights reserved worldwide

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