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People Are Harassing Waymo's Self-Driving Vehicles


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Waymo's testing dozens of self-driving mini-vans near Phoenix. Now the Arizona Republic asks why the vehicles are getting so much hate, citing "a slashed tire, a pointed gun, bullies on the road..." 

"Police have responded to dozens of calls regarding people threatening and harassing Waymo vans."
That was clear August 19, when police were called because a 37-year-old man who police described as "heavily intoxicated" was standing in front of a Waymo and not allowing the van to proceed. "He stated he was sick and tired of the Waymo vehicles driving in his neighborhood, and apparently thought the best idea to resolve this was to stand in front of one of these vehicles," Officer Richard Rimbach wrote in a report.

Phil Simon, an information systems lecturer at Arizona State University and author of several books on technology, said angst from residents is probably less about how the Waymo vans drive and more about people frustrated with what Waymo represents. "This stuff is happening fast and a lot of people are concerned that technology is going to run them out of a job," Simon said. Simon said it is hard for middle-class people to celebrate technological breakthroughs like self-driving cars if they have seen their own wages stagnate or even decline in recent years. "There are always winners and losers, and these are probably people who are afraid and this is a way for them to fight back in some small, futile way," Simon said. "Something tells me these are not college professors or vice presidents who are doing well."

Police used video footage from Waymo to identify the license plate of a Jeep that kept driving head-on toward Waymo's test car -- six different times, one in which the driver then slammed on the brakes, jumped out of their car, and demanded that Waymo get out of their neighborhood. Another local resident told the newspaper that "Everybody hates Waymo drivers. They are dangerous." On four separate occasions, people have thrown rocks.

A 69-year-old man was even arrested for pointing a revolver at the test driver in a passing Waymo car. He later told police he was trying to scare Waymo's driver, and "stated that he despises and hates those cars." He was charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct. The man's wife told reporters he'd been diagnosed with dementia, but the Arizona Republic calls it "one of at least 21 interactions documented by local police during the past two years where people have harassed the autonomous vehicles and their human test drivers," adding "There may be many undocumented instances where people threatened Waymo drivers..." 

"The self-driving vans use radar, lidar and cameras to navigate, so they capture footage of all interactions that usually is clear enough to identify people and read license plates," the paper adds. (Waymo later cites its "ongoing work" with communities "including Arizona law enforcement and first responders.") When one local news crew followed Waymo vehicles for 170 miles to critique their driving, a Waymo driver eventually pulled into a police station "because the driver was concerned we might've been harassing them. After they learned we were with the media, they let us go on our way."

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