This City's Self-Driving Cars Are Causing Oodles of 911 Calls

San Francisco logged nearly 100 emergency calls about autonomous cars in second half of 2022
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2023 1:55 PM CST
This City's Self-Driving Cars Are Causing Oodles of 911 Calls
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, a Waymo driverless car is displayed during a Google event in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Traffic in San Francisco was, well, weird during the last half of 2022, and fingers are being pointed at the city's autonomous vehicles. Per a Wednesday letter from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to the California Public Utilities Commission, there were a whole lot of 911 calls (92, to be exact) from May 29 through Dec. 31 of last year regarding what Vice calls "baffling self-driving car behavior" throughout the city—everything from annoyances like AVs blocking streets and intersections, as well as boxing buses in, to odder incidents like gunning it for fire hoses lying on the ground as firefighters battled blazes. A concerning 60% of the calls were about incidents that took place along the city's bike network.

Self-driving taxi services are especially raising eyebrows, most notably the GM-owned Cruise and Alphabet's Waymo services. NBC News reports that both companies are seeking to expand their fleets within San Francisco, competing with each other to be the first to provide 24-hour robotaxi service in the city, but the city is pushing back, asking regulators to stymie such expansion due to the self-driving issues. The SFCTA letter, signed by the heads of not only that agency, but also the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Mayor's Office on Disability, says officials are wary of "fundamental problems for the general public" from the AV fleets, especially for Cruise vehicles.

The only reason the Cruise incidents, some of which have happened "in clusters," haven't been more disruptive is because the AVs are permitted to operate only between 10pm and 6am local time, when there's not as much traffic on the streets, per the letter. Officials also wonder if that number of 92 incidents might be low for the same reason, as there might not be many people out and about to report them. The letter stressed that officials are advocating for slower, more incremental expansion based on improvements to the AVs. (More self-driving car stories.)

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