Driverless vehicles give law enforcement and emergency workers the finger

Several media outlets in the US, and specifically San Francisco Bay’s Mission Local, have reported on a new, potentially disastrous problem with autonomous vehicles that is incurring the wrath of emergency and law enforcement workers.

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After reports have been obtained by the San Franciscan publication, it has become clear that glitches in automated, or driverless, vehicles, are causing ‘interferences’ with emergency scenes and traffic, in one case as many as three times on the same day.

California is the Mecca of new energy and other high-tech vehicles in the US, and San Francisco is one of the few places in the world where automated vehicles can be found in public side by side to regular vehicles. This is because driverless cars are state regulated, with backing by the city that says that the local government doesn’t have much say regarding them. Before, the manufacturers only tested the vehicles around 2am when there was less traffic on the roads but now they are at it all hours of the day.

It seems the two biggest culprits are Waymo and Cruise. At least 15 incident reports involving these two brands have been filed, and one official said he “believed there were many more incidents that were not being reported”. In each of these cases, the vehicle interfered with fire vehicles or crews at emergency scenes.

In one reported incident on 25 April, a fire truck turned down a street that was too narrow for two vehicle traffic. A Waymo automated vehicle also turned into the street from the opposite direction but instead of moving over for the fire truck it continued to move towards it and then came to a standstill 10 feet from the fire truck, blocking its way. The firefighters had to get out of the truck to tell the automated vehicle’s monitor to move. The Waymo vehicle acknowledge that it understood the situation but failed to move. The fire truck had to back down and take another route.

In another incident in January, an automated vehicle was heading straight to the scene where a fire was being fought. Emergency workers feared that it was going to drive over hoses and into personnel. Eventually, one firefighter managed to bring the vehicle to a halt by smashing its window with a brick.

A case was also reported where a Cruise vehicle rolled through warning tape that was set up to warn drivers to stop. The vehicle kept rolling towards electric wires that had been downed in a windstorm until the tape got tangled in its sensors and it stopped.

It is also common for glitches in automated vehicles to cause all kinds of traffic mischief.

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