San Francisco is contemplating putting a stop to self-driving automobiles | In San Francisco, two companies are competing to deploy robotaxis. The city wants them to slow down | In San Francisco, robot cars are causing 911 false alarms.



San Francisco Takes Measures to Control Robotaxi Expansion After Disruptive Incidents

San Francisco is implementing measures to curb the proliferation of robotaxis in response to a series of events where driverless cars unexpectedly halted and caused disruptions on the streets. These incidents resulted in delays for bus commuters and interfered with the work of firefighters.

The city's transportation authorities have written to California regulators, urging them to block or reduce the development plans of two companies, Cruise and Waymo, who are vying to become the first to offer 24-hour robotaxi services in the prominent tech region.

The outcome of these deliberations will have an impact on the pace of San Francisco's and other cities' adoption of autonomous vehicle technology, which has the potential to transform urban environments and potentially save lives by reducing the approximately 40,000 traffic-related fatalities that occur in the United States each year.

This recent experience adds to the complex history of self-driving cars, a concept that engineers have touted as a future possibility but has encountered various setbacks in recent years. While Waymo already provides fully autonomous trips in Phoenix, and Tesla allows some owners to test "driver assistance" capabilities that are currently under federal investigation, self-driving vehicles still face challenges. In 2018, an Uber self-driving test car was involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian.

While skeptics argue that self-driving vehicles will never gain widespread use, they are gaining traction in San Francisco.

General Motors authorized Cruise to deploy 30 vehicles as robotaxis in certain areas of San Francisco between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. without human drivers last year. Although Cruise has since been granted permission to test autonomous cars at any time, it still requires approval from the California Public Utilities Commission before expanding its commercial service hours.

While no fatalities have occurred on San Francisco streets involving Cruise or Waymo vehicles, these companies need to address occasional amusing failures. For example, in one incident last year, a Cruise car without occupants attempted to evade a police officer.

In a recent incident captured on social media and acknowledged by municipal officials, five disabled Cruise vehicles in San Francisco's Mission District fully blocked a roadway, leading to a transit bus carrying 45 passengers experiencing a delay of at least 13 minutes. According to the city, Cruise's self-driving vehicles have also disrupted active firefighting operations, prompting firefighters to break a car's glass to prevent it from driving over their fire hoses.

San Francisco officials have expressed their willingness to continue the experiment and allow Cruise and Waymo to expand cautiously and under specific conditions.

"Instead of granting unlimited authorizations, a series of limited deployments with incremental expansions offer the best approach to build public confidence in driving automation and ensure industry success in City Officials Advocate for Cautious Progress in San Francisco and Beyond: Letter to Utilities Commission. Another letter raised reservations specifically about Waymo.

San Francisco aims to prohibit robotaxis from operating in the city's central area or during peak commuting hours in the morning and evening. Additionally, the city demands further information about the functioning of these vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last month that it is investigating similar concerns, including incidents of traffic disruptions caused by robotaxis.

Cruise claims that its service is safer than the current transportation system. "Cruise's safety record is publicly available and includes driving millions of kilometers in an incredibly complex urban environment without any life-threatening injuries or fatalities," stated Cruise spokesperson Drew Pusateri in a statement.

Letters of Support for Cruise Submitted by Pusateri from San Francisco Commerce Associations, Disability Activists, and Community Groups.

San Francisco is falling short of its "vision zero" target of eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024. The city reported 37 road fatalities last year, an increase from 31 in 2014 when.

City officials express concerns that stopped robotaxis pose risks that may provoke aggressive responses from human drivers. They argue that these halted vehicles can lead other vehicles to make dangerous lane changes, sudden stops or accelerations, or even veer into bike lanes and crosswalks, potentially causing rear-end collisions. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg considers the national increase in auto deaths a catastrophe and has shown support for the transition to self-driving cars, stating that safe autonomous driving could outperform human drivers.

 Waymo, owned by Google, has conducted tests of its technology in San Francisco but has not yet offered trips to paying members of the public without a safety driver. While Waymo has not faced the same level of high-profile incidents as Cruise, except for struggling with a dead-end street, the city still urges caution and gradual progress towards a 24-hour robotaxi service. Waymo has stated its intention to continue discussions with the city and will provide a formal response to the authorities next week, emphasizing that these letters are a routine part of the regulatory process.