Self-driving test vehicles from Google sister company Waymo jam otherwise quiet San Francisco cul-de-sac after encountering unexpected traffic rules
Self-driving vehicles from Google sister company Waymo have begun clogging a normally quiet cul-de-sac in San Francisco, apparently due to confusion over traffic regulations.
Each day dozens of the white, equipment-laden cars, which Waymo is sending out to learn driving patterns in the city, have been entering 15th Avenue, a “dead-end” street where they are obliged to perform a multi-point turn and exit the way they came, according to local news station KPIX.
Resident Jennifer King said she first became aware of the vehicles from the unusual sound of their pedestrian warning system (PWS).
“I noticed it while I was sleeping,” King told the station. “I awoke to a strange hum and I thought there was a spacecraft outside my bedroom window.”
King said there could be up to 50 of the cars entering and leaving the street each day, and KPIX viewed several of the cars queuing up in the street as they waited to turn around and leave again.
“It’s literally every five minutes. And we’re all working from home, so this is what we hear,” King said.
She said residents had questioned the cars’ human safety drivers, who told them “the car is programmed and they’re just doing their job”.
Resident Andrea Lewin said the cars had been coming and going for six or eight weeks.
Waymo said the issue resulted from its cars obeying San Francisco’s “Slow Street” programme, which is designed to reduce traffic on Lake St., which crosses 15th Avenue just before it dead-ends into the Presidio park north of California St.
This means that when the cars are travelling north on 15th north of California, they are unable to turn onto Lake and are forced to turn around, Waymo said.
“We continually adjust to dynamic San Francisco road rules. In this case, cars traveling North of California on 15th Ave have to take a U-turn due to the presence of Slow Streets signage on Lake. So, the Waymo Driver was obeying the same road rules that any car is required to follow,” the company said in a statement.
Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, whose cars also use self-driving technology, responded to the report with a single-word post on Twitter: “Haha”.
Waymo, owned by Google parent Alphabet, began testing its self-driving taxi vehicles in San Francisco earlier this year, with backup human drivers behind the wheel.
The company has been offering automated taxi rides within a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, since October 2020.
In May a Waymo vehicle blocked a road in Phoenix after becoming confused by the presence of traffic cones.