National

Self-driving cars are here. But shouting Californians are attacking them, DMV says

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra speaks next to a autonomous Chevrolet Bolt electric car. Of the half-dozen traffic accidents involving self-driving cars in California this year, two were the result of humans attacking the autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, according to California Department of Motor Vehicle incident reports.
General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra speaks next to a autonomous Chevrolet Bolt electric car. Of the half-dozen traffic accidents involving self-driving cars in California this year, two were the result of humans attacking the autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, according to California Department of Motor Vehicle incident reports. AP

It’s a good thing self-driving cars haven’t been programmed for road rage.

If they had, the Californians who have taken to the streets this year to attack the vehicles — one man “with his entire body” — might have been in trouble.

So far in 2018, there have been only six reported traffic incidents involving self-driving vehicles in California, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. But of those six incidents, two involved angry, violent Californians going up to the futuristic cars on San Francisco streets and attacking.

The first incident started on Jan. 2 around 9:30 p.m., when a pedestrian saw a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt at 16th and Valencia Streets in the city’s Mission District. The vehicle was stopped at a green light as it waited for other pedestrians to cross the street.

But then the onlooker “ran across Valencia Street, against the ‘do not walk’ symbol, shouting, and struck the left side of the ... rear bumper and hatch with his entire body,” according to a California DMV incident report.

The vehicle was slightly damaged, but no one was injured, according to the incident report. Police weren’t called. The vehicle was being operated by GMC Cruise, the self-driving vehicle arm of the giant automaker.

About a month later, on Jan. 28, came the second attack. This time, just before 11 p.m., a taxi driver near Duboce Avenue and Guerrero Street got out of his car when he spotted an autonomous GMC Cruise. The taxi driver went up to the vehicle and “slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch,” according to the incident report.

No one was injured. And from the sound of it, the self-driving car took the high road — choosing not to call police after the attack, according to the incident report.

Other incidents involving self-driving cars this year have been the fault of human error, whether it’s a human driver merging and hitting the autonomous vehicle, or an autonomous vehicle being driven in “conventional mode” — that is, by a human — accidentally hitting construction equipment.

Soon, there will be even more autonomous vehicles (or victims, depending on how you look at it) on the roads in California.

The state announced in February that tech companies and car makers will be able to put self-driving cars on the roads without anyone at all in the car starting in April. Until now, autonomous vehicles in the state were required to have someone behind the wheel to take control if something went haywire, the Sacramento Bee reports. Someone will still need to be monitoring the self-driving vehicles remotely, though.

“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” Jean Shiomoto, director of the state’s DMV, said in a statement announcing the change. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”

Promoters of driverless cars have heralded the technology as a way to reduce crashes. After all, about 90 percent of car accidents are the result of human failings, according to federal data. But a recent American Automobile Association survey also find that 63 percent of American drivers say they’re “afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle,” the Bee reports.

Still, that’s better than a year ago, when 78 percent of respondents reported being fearful of self-driving cars.

“Americans are starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of self-driving vehicles,” said Suna Taymaz, an AAA autonomous vehicle strategy executive, told the Bee.

But maybe San Francisco is another story.

  Comments