Two weeks ago, I wrote about opposition to unlimited robotaxi expansion in San Francisco. Some pro-robotaxi groups and fans are eager to see full expansion of robotaxi services in the San Francisco metro area (and broader), and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) sees no reason to halt the expansion. However, others, including the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) want a pause on expansion for now, at least. I wrote about some of the issues they’ve highlighted in that previous article, but reporting has brought out more specific problems, and they’re so intriguing that I couldn’t pass up doing a followup piece on them.
Here are 5 odd cases of robotaxis driving in weird, off-limits places or scenarios:
- Through electric trolley wires: San Francisco has iconic, old-school electric trolleys. It’s one of the few places in North America still sporting such transportation options. (Europe still has many of these.) Well, the city was hit with a severe rainstorm in March that ended up pushing some of those wires quite low — and a Cruise robotaxi reportedly drove through it and got tangled in it. “A Cruise car then got snarled in the overhead wire, dragging it upward the rest of the block,” the San Francisco Chronicle writes. “Cruise personnel who retrieved the entangled car had to manually back it up a half block ‘to release the tension on the wire,’ according to a San Francisco Fire Department report. No one was inside the cars at the time, and no one was hurt. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, had already de-energized the lines by the time the Cruise taxi hit them.” Yikes! But at least no one was hurt.
- Through yellow caution tape and sandwich boards: Apparently unaware of what yellow caution tape and sandwich boards mean — or just not noticing that they were in the cars’ path — Cruise robotaxis also drove right into an area where they weren’t supposed to drive during this storm. Trees had been downed, electricity wires had been downed — robotaxis acted as if it was just any other day and the signs of caution didn’t mean anything.
- Into fire scenes: Robotaxis have also driven right into fire scenes that no normal human would drive into, and that has included running over fire hoses. Some robotaxis have even blocked fire trucks.
- Into shooting scenes: Some robotaxis have reportedly also driven right into shooting scenes. I mean, think about it: how is a robotaxi supposed to know if people are shooting at each other across the street or on the side of the street? (Side note: we have a gun problem in the USA.) Luckily, again, no one has seemingly been hurt as a result of this — yet. Also, it might be worth noting that humans can also accidentally drive into shooting scenes.
- In front of emergency responders: It’s not clear if they have been driving or parked in such scenarios, but what’s been claimed is that some robotaxis have blocked emergency responders from where they need to go.
More weather drama in my neighborhood. 2 driverless cars didnt detect 1) the caution tape blocking my street and 2) the down @SFMTA_Muni wires. Now theyre tangled up like flies in sticky traps. 🌧 🤷🏽♂️ 🌧 @SFGate @kron4news @nbcbayarea pic.twitter.com/cLdGjvorRE
— John-Phillip 🐳 (@PopRag) March 22, 2023
There are also cases of robotaxis blocking different forms of transit (buses, light rail, etc.) and other traffic. But, frankly, human drivers do that sometimes, too. It seems the CPUC does not see evidence that robotaxis are very abnormal in this regard, so I’m personally refraining from any broad judgement on that matter myself for now.
What do you think about all of this? Just need seem algorithm tweaks? Worth the tradeoff of not having so many distracted, drunk, or reckless human drivers on the road? Or should the robotaxi rollout be halted for now?
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