Driverless cars were once touted as the saviour of transportation, but the reality is that the current automated vehicle technology efforts are causing real problems for the city of San Francisco.
An NBC News report on YouTube talks about how driverless cars from GM’s Cruise and Google’s Waymo, which got permission to offer cab services in San Fransico in 2022, are now responsible for three 911 calls a day in the city. The report says the cars can get confused and stop entirely if they encounter construction or red lights from emergency vehicles, leading to traffic jams.
It’s a particular problem for the city’s fire department and first responders. One fire chief says she sees at least one incident a day with driverless vehicles. Other reports filed by the department include autonomous vehicles driving toward active fire scenes and running over hoses. One report claims firefighters had to break one of these cars’ windows in order to stop it. The fire chief interviewed stated she doesn’t believe these cars are “ready for prime time.”
The local Department of Transportation doesn’t have much power over Google or GM to control these vehicles, thanks to special rules made at the state level that doesn’t allow the city of San Francisco to regulate driverless vehicles.
NBC was not able to get GM to comment on these issues with its Cruise vehicles. Waymo’s chief safety officer Mauricio Pena was interviewed on camera. He claims it has “very infrequent events that occur” but when it is pointed out that the city is now getting three 911 calls a day about driverless cars, he says those “infrequent events” are “relative to the number of miles we drive and relative to the number of emergency contacts that we face on a day-to-day basis.”
Pena also says they plan to increase the number of Waymo cars on San Francisco streets by 10 times the current number this summer. That doesn’t make Jeffrey Tumlin, the city’s transportation director happy. He claims that if Waymo goes through with its plan, “it would have a dramatic impact on congestion. It would result in significant delays in our transit system, and to emergency vehicle response time.”