There seems to be an ongoing feud between self-driving cars and the citizens of Tempe, AZ. Uber began testing self-driving cars in late 2016 and then suspended the program for a few months after a March 2017 collision between an Uber self-driving SUV and another car caused the Uber to flip over. It closed the program altogether shortly after a March 2018 incident when Tempe pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber. The car had been in self-drive mode, with a backup driver riding in the backseat.
On Sunday night, an autonomous car operated by Uber — and with an emergency backup driver behind the wheel — struck and killed a woman on a street in Tempe, Ariz. It was believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology. The company quickly suspended testing in Tempe as well as in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.
Waymo began piloting its self-driving cars in Tempe and surrounding areas in 2016 and in 2020 began operating fully autonomous (no driver) vehicles. While many people love the service, it has also come under scrutiny and criticism. In January 2020, a Waymo car (with a driver) got into a car crash with another vehicle. AZ Central reported on that case:
Waymo said another driver swerved in front of one of its vehicles that was being operated manually and hit the brakes, causing an accident late Thursday that injured the Waymo driver.
"One of Waymo's self-driving vehicles was involved in an incident in Tempe late on the evening of January 30 when another vehicle erratically swerved in front of our vehicle, braking aggressively and abruptly slowing down to a full stop on a 45 mph road," Waymo said in a prepared statement Friday.
And just a few days ago, a Waymo vehicle was involved in another incident. The Verge reports:
An "erratic" pedestrian attacked a Waymo autonomous vehicle late Tuesday evening in Tempe, Arizona, smashing the windshield and injuring the safety driver, the company said. It was the latest incident of people in Arizona attacking Waymo vehicles — and occasionally their safety drivers — as the company ramps up its commercial service in the state.
According to the company, a Waymo vehicle was traveling down the street in autonomous mode at 3AM on July 5th when a pedestrian ran out in front of it. The safety driver saw the pedestrian and switched the vehicle into manual mode, bringing it to a full stop before the person leaped onto the hood. The person, whom Waymo spokesperson Nick Smith described as "erratic" then punctured the windshield, injuring the driver.
Funny how in each of those incidents Waymo spokespeople always describe the other car or person as "erratic." Such incidents have made Waymo persona non grata—or should I say something more like robota non grata?—around these parts (I live in Tempe), and people remain angry. As The Verge explains:
The company's vehicles have been subject to a variety of attacks in the past few years, including people threatening or physically attacking them with guns, knives, and rocks. In 2018, The Arizona Republic reported that police in Chandler, one of the towns where Waymo operates, have logged at least two dozen incidents.
Some drivers have tried running Waymo's vehicles off the road. A man drove up alongside one of the company's minivans and threatened the safety driver with a piece of PVC pipe, according to The New York Times.