New-Age Road Rage: Some People Are Not Fans of Waymo’s Autonomous Cars

By: Bridget Clerkin January 16, 2019
Waymo self-driving cars have been pelted with rocks and had their tires slashed, while some pedestrians have harassed the company’s safety drivers.
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AriZona may be best known for its iced tea, but many residents of the state are actually drinking the haterade—at least when it comes to autonomous cars.

As the venerable breeding ground for Waymo’s robotaxi service, the greater Phoenix area has seen more than its fair share of self-driving cars—and far more than its fair share of acts of violence against them.

According to local authorities, the Phoenix suburb of Chandler alone has recorded at least 21 incidents of harassment against the cars or their drivers in the past 2 years. Events range from others on the road yelling at the futuristic vehicles, to chasing them down, to throwing stones as they autonomously cruise by.

Chandler police said one brazen citizen took it upon himself to slash one of the cars’ tires at a traffic stop. On another occasion, a flesh-and-blood Jeep driver was responsible for forcing his Waymo-operated counterpart off the road several times.

Events of harassment range from others on the road yelling at the futuristic vehicles, to chasing them down, to throwing stones as they autonomously cruise by.

In the scariest instance, one safety driver for Waymo—Google’s autonomous car spin-off company—reported seeing a man aim a gun at the self-driving ride from his driveway.

And while the individual in that case was apprehended by police, the rise of uneasy feelings about the cars has prompted Waymo to start taking the matter into its own hands.

The company has apparently begun training its test drivers on how to react in situations where they feel threatened. Suggestions include finding a safe space to park, such as a mall or other large public area, and calling dispatch or 9-1-1.

Yet, the Chandler residents aren’t alone in their distaste for the vehicles. The first known instance of harassment against a self-driving car took place early last year, in California—another bastion for the robo-rides.

As autonomous cars only continue to proliferate, thanks in no small part to Waymo’s intentions to bring a commercial self-driving taxi service across the nation, the problem will likely only grow with them.

Indeed, in the Arizona gun-wielding case, police reported that strong personal feelings against the cars were a factor. And poll after poll shows most citizens are ambivalent at best about taking a spin in a self-driving car.

The issue is particularly personal in Arizona, which saw the first pedestrian death at the hands of the technology last spring—an occasion that was specifically mentioned by the man aiming his gun at the autonomous car, according to the police report.

Yet with most major car manufacturers hinging their future on the rise of autonomous cars, many are likely hoping that people stop drinking the haterade and start drinking the self-driving Kool-Ade.

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