Activists in San Francisco have come with a new, yet simple, way to stop driverless cars after deadly incidents and headaches caused by autonomous vehicles.
The protest group Safe Streets Rebel, which advocates for pedestrian safety, has posted multiple videos to their social media platforms showing them disabling the robo-taxis by placing a traffic cone on the hood.
The move comes after robotic vehicles were blamed for a string of incidents, including the killing of a dog in June and plowing into the side of a bus in March.
The campaign is timed to coincide with the California public utilities commission’s vote to expand driverless car services. The two primary robo-taxi companies are Cruise, owned by General Motors, and Waymo, owned by Google.
On Instagram, Safe Streets Rebel called the campaign The Week of Cone. ‘It’s a great time. We’re not damaging anyone’s property, it’s very fixable, but it is a funny and effective tactic that has really resonated,’ a member of the group told The Guardian.
The cone tricks the vehicle’s sensors to believe there is an obstacle ahead, causing the ride to stop.
In a statement, Waymo has decried the protesters calling their actions ‘vandalism’ and accused the group’s members of encouraging ‘unsafe and disrespectful behavior on our roadways.’ The company promised to call the authorities if they became aware of tampering with cars.
Cruise highlighted its public service in a statement on the cone protest.
‘Cruises fleet provides free rides to late-night service workers without reliable transportation options, has delivered over 2 million meals to food insecure San Franciscans, and recovers food waste from local businesses.
‘Intentionally obstructing vehicles gets in the way of those efforts and risks creating traffic congestion for local residents,’ the press release continued.
KRON reported city officials have also spoke out against the protest, pointing to the fact that if a car is disabled, it requires tech experts to reset it, potentially causing more congestion.
Cruise also argued its cars have not been involved in a single fatality or serious injury after accumulating 3 million miles on San Francisco streets.
Safe Streets Rebel seeks to make public areas safer for pedestrians and cyclists while also campaigning for more funding to mass transit. The targeting of robo-cars is a new departure for the group, its previous targets were human drivers.
Last month, the group made headlines over a protest of cut in public transport funding that included a member dressed as California Governor Gavin Newsom beating a piñata, reports the San Francisco Standard.
Confused cops pulled over a driverless car. It drove off. pic.twitter.com/sDka6TnFFx
— Mashable (@mashable) July 1, 2023
‘They still require wide roads, tire wear, they have cameras everywhere. It’s not just about ‘are they safer than a human diver?’ We want healthy cities that don’t require these high-tech surveillance pods moving around,’ an activist told The Guardian.
In an interview with ABC San Francisco, another member of the group said: ‘Even if you have the perfect driver ,which is what these are pitched as, there are still fundamentally unsafe as a two-ton metal box moving through the city.’
Safe Streets Rebels’ concerns have been echoed by San Francisco Police Chief Jeanine Nicholson who has encouraged officials to move slower in permitting more driverless cars more liberty on the streets.
‘We’ve had two vehicles actually stop dead in front of fire engines trying to get out the door of fire stations to go on emergency calls,’ Chief Nicholson told KTVU.
In June, a Cruise car was accused of blocking emergency service vehicles’ access to the scene of a shooting. Also in June, two Waymo cars stalled close to the city’s Pride Parade.
Autonomous car expert Billy Riggs of the University of San Francisco told KTVU that data shows driverless cars are safer than human drivers.
‘We still see issues where, just like a human driver, they encounter situations, one in a million situations that they haven’t encountered before,’ Riggs said.
Above: TV journalist documents wild ride inside Waymo self-driving car in San Francisco
The cone protest is scheduled to end on July 9, but one protester told the Standard that coning has become so popular, it may have taken on a life of its own.
‘People might just keep coning them, if not as a form of protest then just for joy,’ the activist said.
Waymo, which began as a secret project within Google in 2009, has been running a driverless ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area since October 2020, but piloting the crowded and difficulty of more jam packed cities such as San Francisco has posed more dreadful difficulties for robotic taxis to conquer.
That’s one of the reasons Cruise’s newly approved driverless service in San Francisco is being so closely controlled. Besides being narrowed to places and times where there is less traffic and fewer pedestrians on the streets, Cruise’s driverless service won’t be allowed to function in heavy rain or fog.
While Cruise’s application for a driverless taxi service in San Francisco won widespread support from supporters anticipating the technology will become usable in other cities, some transportation experts encouraged the Public Utilities Commission to move cautiously.
‘Many of the claimed benefits of (autonomous vehicles) have not been demonstrated, and some claims have little or no foundation,’ Ryan Russo, the director of the transportation department in Oakland, California, told the commission in May.
Uber, the biggest ride-hailing service, had purposed to have 75,000 self-driving cars on the road by 2019 and operate a driverless taxi fleet in at least 13 cities in 2022, according to court documents filed in a high-profile case accusing the company of robbing trade secrets from Waymo.
Uber wound up selling its autonomous driving division to Aurora in 2020 and still depends almost entirely on human drivers who have been more challenging to recruit since the pandemic.
And Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised his electric car company would be operating a robotic taxi fleet by the end of 2020. That didn’t transpire, although Musk is still promising it eventually will.
Similar problems are occurring in other parts of the country, such as Austin, Texas. See tweet below.
A Cruise driverless car is pulled over and stopped in the middle of MLK. Cars are having to pull onto the other side of the rose to go around it. What do you think about these cars driving around Austin? pic.twitter.com/L5UrsjWPaK
— Nabil Brent Remadna KXAN (@RemadnaKXAN) July 8, 2023
If you're going to watch one video, this is the one to see! Mind blowing experience in San Francisco. Going live in a moment.
"An ALL-TESLA Family Tries a REAL Driverless Car" pic.twitter.com/u5dyL1Ufn8
— Kim Java (@ItsKimJava) June 30, 2023
Driverless cars in Phoenix. Kind of nice not having to make small talk with your driver. pic.twitter.com/QMLjZ67UIU
— Mr. Morty (@MortyPolski) July 2, 2023