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 (AP) - San Francisco is attempting to curb the spread of robotaxis following a series of events in which cars without drivers stopped and idled in the middle of the street for no apparent reason, delaying bus users and disturbing firemen' work.

The city's transportation authorities wrote to California regulators this week, requesting that they block or cut back the development plans of two companies, Cruise and Waymo, who are seeking to be the first to offer 24-hour robotaxi service in the country's most well-known tech region.

The conclusion will influence how swiftly San Francisco and maybe other cities go forward with driverless technology, which has the potential to change the world's cities and potentially rescue some of the 40,000 people killed in traffic accidents in the United States each year.

The experience adds another chapter to the tangled history of self-driving cars, a notion that engineers have touted as a future possibility while encountering a number of setbacks in recent years. In Phoenix, Waymo provides completely autonomous trips, while Tesla allows some of its owners to test "driver assistance" capabilities that are the subject of a federal probe. In 2018, an Uber self-driving test car hit and killed a lady.

Some say self-driving vehicles will never be widely used, yet they are gaining traction in San Francisco.


Last year, General Motors granted Cruise authorization to deploy 30 vehicles as robotaxis in portions of San Francisco between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. During that moment, the cars do not have backup human drivers. The business has subsequently been granted authorization to test autonomous cars at any time of day or night, but it still need approval from the California Public Utilities Commission before expanding the hours of its commercial service.

Neither Cruise nor Waymo vehicles have killed anybody on San Francisco streets, but the businesses must overcome their occasionally humorous failures, such as one last year in which a Cruise car with no one inside attempted to run from a police officer.

In one 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, causing a transit bus carrying 45 passengers to be delayed for at least 13 minutes. According to the city, Cruise's self-driving vehicles have also interfered with active firefighting, and firemen reportedly cracked a car's glass to prevent it from driving over their firehoses.

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San Francisco officials have stated that they want to continue the experiment and even let Cruise and Waymo to expand, but only cautiously and under certain conditions.

"Rather than unlimited authorizations, a series of limited deployments with incremental expansions offer the best path toward public confidence in driving automation and industry success in San Francisco and beyond," three city officials wrote Thursday in a letter to the utilities commission, the state agency that decides whether a company gets a robotaxi licence. Another letter highlighted reservations about Waymo.

San Francisco does not want robotaxis operating in the city's central centre, or during peak commuting periods in the morning and evening. It also wants additional information on how the vehicles function.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last month that it was looking into the same concerns, including halted traffic.

Cruise has claimed that their service is safer than the current system.

"Cruise's safety record is publicly published, and it includes driving millions of kilometres in an incredibly complicated metropolitan setting with no life-threatening injuries or fatalities," Cruise spokesperson Drew Pusateri said in a statement Friday.

He also submitted letters of support for Cruise from San Francisco commerce associations, disability activists, and community groups.

San Francisco is falling short of its "vision zero" target of no traffic fatalities by 2024. Last year, there were 37 road fatalities in the city, up from 31 in 2014, when the objective was implemented.

Stopped robotaxis, according to city officials, are risks that might prompt human drivers to respond aggressively.

"They can prompt other vehicles to make risky lane changes, halt or accelerate suddenly, or swerve into bike lanes or crosswalks. "They have the potential to cause rear-end crashes," they stated in a letter to the state regulator.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has labelled the national increase in auto deaths a catastrophe and has all but backed the transition to self-driving cars.

"To be honest, it would be difficult to perform worse than human drivers in terms of what we might theoretically do with the correct type of safe autonomous driving," he told Quartz last year.

Waymo, which is owned by Google, has tested its technology in San Francisco but has not provided trips to paying members of the public without a safety driver. As a consequence, while Waymo hasn't had the same high-profile unplanned pauses as Cruise — though it has struggled with one dead-end street — the city still wants the firm to take its time on its road to a 24-hour robotaxi service.

Waymo stated on Friday that it intends to continue discussions with the city.

"These letters are a regular part of the regulatory process," the business said in a statement, adding that it will clarify in a formal response to authorities next week.