After licensing two autonomous car robotaxi services, authorities in the US city of San Francisco are now considering banning them.
Trying to compensate for the limitations of existing technologies, operators Waimo and Cruise have configured autonomous driving systems to be as preventive as possible in traffic. As a result, the cars don’t keep up with the rest of the urban traffic, with slow speeds and slow manoeuvres (e.g. changing lanes) exasperating other drivers who are just trying to get out of the way. In addition, cars without a driver behind the wheel do not cope well with traffic jams and ‘panic’ at the most inopportune moments, stopping on busy roads or at busy intersections. The result is traffic gridlock for minutes on end until a transport service operator logs on to drive the car in remote mode.
Also in the contingency department, computerized cars seem incapable of handling situations that call for improvisation, even if it means justifiably breaking traffic rules. For example, they do not clear the way for emergency crews if this involves actions such as crossing the lane, leaving the demarcated part of the carriageway, or moving out of the way of the queue stopped at the traffic lights.
Also under the heading of improvisation, crews responding to a fire had to break the window of a car that was moving autonomously to prevent it from running over pressurized hoses deployed across the roadway.
Another gripe is the way the new autonomous cars automatically call emergency services not just for minor traffic incidents, but also for health “emergencies” triggered when a passenger asleep in the back seat is not detected.