San Francisco robot taxis cause false 911 calls and other disturbances

Through the Looking Glass: Sometimes there are unfortunate and sometimes fatal incidents with self-driving cars. However, the recent cases of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco have been downright bizarre. Not only is the software that controls cars having a hard time adjusting to the real world, companies and governments are still learning how people behave with self-driving vehicles.

Recent official complaints to California regulators reveal bizarre incidents that have taken place since fully autonomous taxis began operating in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The cases are mostly related to the fact that the robotaxis interferes with the emergency response services or otherwise wastes their time.

Wired notes that one letter sent to the California Public Utilities Commission alleges that sleeping passengers result in unnecessary 911 calls. GM-owned Cruise operates self-driving taxis in San Francisco, providing two-way communication between passengers and company staff. In three cases, passengers chose to take a nap during their trip and Cruise employees called 911 when they didn’t answer.

San Francisco officials described the events as a waste of first responders’ time, asking the state of California to slow down the rollout of self-driving cars on public roads. It seems that robot taxi passengers are starting to act the same as they do on buses, trains or planes, using the trips as an opportunity to get some sleep.

Other complaints cite cases where autonomous taxis have interfered with firefighters. Shortly after California allowed Cruz to drive a roboticab in San Francisco last June, one ran over a fire hose during an active firefighting operation. Last week, firefighters had to spend more than two minutes trying to stop an oncoming robot taxi from running over their hose. The letter claims that they eventually had to smash the windshield to get it to stop, but Cruz says he had already stopped the car by then.

These cases seem to be a continuation of an incident last July when a test group of Cruise robot taxis stopped in the middle of the road for an unknown reason, obstructing traffic. The human engineers had to remove the vehicles after they stopped functioning.

The incident is one of nearly 100 that, according to San Francisco agencies, occurred between May and the end of 2022, when cruise cars delayed traffic by stopping at the wrong places and at the wrong time. The incidents disrupted public transport and forced other drivers to make sudden, potentially dangerous maneuvers.

Transportation authorities in San Francisco and Los Angeles are concerned that autonomous driving technology isn’t ready for their cities and are asking companies like Cruise for more data before expanding. Cruise says it has to withhold some information to protect consumer privacy and trade secrets. The company also indicates that none of the reported incidents resulted in serious injury or death.

However, official letters are not always negative. They recognize that self-driving cars can empower people who cannot drive, including the disabled.

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