In Arizona, the same state where one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian, people have reportedly been vandalizing autonomous vehicles operated by Waymo, the Google spin-off owned by Alphabet.
The New York Times reported Monday that more than 20 incidents of vandalism on the vehicles have occurred since 2017, when Waymo arrived in Chandler, Arizona. The attacks on Waymo vans, first reported on by the Arizona Republic last month, have involved everything from slashed tires to a pointed gun and reckless driving aimed at running the vans off the road. Citing police reports, the Times reported that some individuals have also thrown rocks at the vans.
And it’s not just the cars that are facing violence, but also the riders inside of them. According to both the Arizona Republic and Times, backup drivers have reportedly been yelled at and faced threats to their safety on multiple occasions. In one particularly terrifying incident reported by the Times, a man allegedly “threatened the employee riding inside [a Waymo vehicle] with a piece of PVC pipe.”
“Safety is at the core of everything we do, which means that keeping our drivers, our riders, and the public safe is our top priority,” a Waymo spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement by email in response to the reports. “Over the past two years, we’ve found Arizonans to be welcoming and excited by the potential of this technology to make our roads safer. We believe a key element of local engagement has been our ongoing work with the communities in which we drive, including Arizona law enforcement and other first responders.”
Last month, the Arizona Republic reported on a video released by the Chandler Police Department of an incident that occurred in August. In the video, a man identified by police as Roy Leonard Haselton, 69, can be seen pointing a revolver at one of Waymo’s vehicles. Detective Cameron Jacobs wrote in a police report that the man “stated that he despises and hates those cars (Waymo) and said how Uber had killed someone,” according to the Arizona Republic in its lengthy investigation into the ongoing attacks.
The deadly crash in which one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles was involved occurred in Tempe in March of last year. While the car did have a backup driver present, that individual may have been distracted by video on their phone at the time the vehicle struck and killed a cyclist. While the crash was arguably the most high-profile incident involving self-driving vehicles, Waymo has also been involved in its own traffic accidents.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Information reported in October on an incident last summer in which a Waymo backup driver reportedly fell asleep behind the wheel and subsequently crashed into a highway medium. According to the report, this occurred after the individual “inadvertently turned off the self-driving car software by touching the gas pedal, and then failed to take over the wheel.”
In response to reports of ongoing incidents involving its autonomous vehicles, Waymo pointed to two things: its more than 40,234km logged per day, and what it characterised as “extremely rare” incidents escalated to police reports. It also noted its support from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We’re in the early rider program. The technology is incredibly impressive and my neighbours welcome it,” Garrick Taylor, senior vice president of government relations and communications for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, tweeted last month. “This is about a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch.”
But the fact remains that these incidents are occurring, perhaps indicating that not all Arizonans feel as “welcoming and excited” as the company believes.