Rolling robots not welcome

February 2019

John Bendel


Not everyone is happy about autonomous vehicles. Some people in Tempe, Ariz., are so upset by self-driving test cars, they’re taking action. CNBC reports at least 21 recorded incidents in which drivers have threatened test drivers or attempted to drive test cars off the road.

One 69-year-old man pointed his .22-caliber Harrington and Richardson Sportsman revolver at one test driver. According to the police report, the man “stated that he despises and hates those cars and said how Uber had killed someone.”

Indeed, an Uber autonomous test car hit and killed a pedestrian in nearby Tempe in March. Uber suspended operations nationwide at the time, though it has since resumed restricted testing in Pittsburgh.

In Chandler, it’s not Uber but Waymo that operates a fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans. They cover almost 25,000 miles on city streets each day testing system tweaks and gathering data. Onboard drivers only intervene when necessary – like the time a Jeep pulled into Waymo’s lane and ran at it head on.

The same Jeep and other vehicles have stopped in front of Waymo Chryslers or otherwise messed with their sensor systems in Chandler. People have thrown rocks at them and in one incident a man ran out of a park and slashed a Waymo vehicle’s tire as it idled. Some people say they dislike autonomous vehicles, because they’re so cautious they slow traffic. An autonomous car might take forever to navigate a four-way stop intersection, for example.

With this kind of reception for cars on city streets, it’s no wonder autonomous truck development pretty much focuses on highway use. LL

John Bendel

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.