Self-driving cars may be the vehicles of the future, but in the present they seem to be a victim of bad, old-fashioned road rage.
Waymo’s self-driving cars have been involved in at least 21 incidents recorded by Arizona police in the last two years, with some drivers yelled at and one vehicle’s tires slashed, according to the Arizona Republic. Waymo-trained drivers are riding in the cars until they’re ready to be fully autonomous. People also have thrown rocks and chased Waymos, the publication noted, citing police reports.
The incidents may highlight public curiosity about — and resistance to — new forms of technology like self-driving cars. Even so, Waymo’s fleet of about 600 self-driving vehicles travel thousands of miles each day, and so a certain amount of road rage incidents are likely to occur given the time they spend on the road.
Waymo, a division of Google-parent Alphabet, told CBS MoneyWatch that safety is paramount in response to a question about the reported incidents.
“We believe a key element of local engagement has been our ongoing work with the communities in which we drive, including Arizona law enforcement and first responders,” a Waymo spokeswoman said in an email.
Overall, Arizonans have been “welcoming and excited” by the potential of the technology, she added.
Waymo drivers use their discretion when they encounter a situation that might be dangerous to themselves, their passengers or to the vehicles. Drivers are advised to contact police if they feel unsafe, the company said.
Drivers also have hands-free access to Waymo’s dispatch, which can help them coordinate with police and alert other drivers.
The incidents described by the Arizona Republic range from the mundane to the more unusual, like the 37-year-old man who was “heavily intoxicated” and stood in front of a Waymo van, refusing to move. The man reportedly said he was “sick and tired” of the self-driving vehicles, and explained that his solution was to stand in front of one of them and block its route.
Waymo’s self-driving service, WaymoOne, debuted last week by inviting early riders in its research program to try it out. The service will operate across 100-square miles around Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.
Eventually, the service will be expanded through the Waymo app, which allows consumers to call self-driving vehicles for a ride in the region.
Despite the technological wow factor of autonomous cars, humans will take longer to adapt than the machines. Some consumers say they feel ill-at-ease with self-driving cars on the road, while others may resent the influx of technology fueled by Silicon Valley money.
“This stuff is happening fast, and a lot of people are concerned that technology is going to run them out of a job,” Phil Simon, an Arizona State University technology lecturer told the Arizona Republic.
Self-driving vehicles may alter the job market for tens of thousands of workers, such as the 180,000 taxi drivers and 3.5 million truck drivers in the country who stand to be replaced by autonomous vehicles.
More broadly, automation and robots could lead to the loss of 5 million jobs globally over the next few years, the World Economic Forum predicts.