Driverless cars stall, causing traffic jam in San Francisco

Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 10:51 AM CDT
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SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) - Ten driverless cars stalled, creating gridlock on Friday, and the company blamed one of San Francisco’s biggest music festivals for connectivity issues.

It was a bizarre futuristic scene that is raising new concerns about robotaxis.

Ten Cruise cars stopped together, blocking traffic in North Beach for around 20 minutes.

In a social media post, Cruise blamed the music festive Outside Lands for disrupting its wireless bandwidth connectivity.

“What this says to me is that when cellphones fail, if there’s a power outage, if there’s a natural disaster like we just saw in Lahaina, that these cars could congest our streets at the precise time when we would be needing to deploy emergency apparatus,” said Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Days after the robotaxi expansion was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, Peskin said he is taking action against that decision.

“The city of San Francisco will be petitioning the California Public Utilities Commission, asking them for reconsideration, potentially if need be, taking this to a court of competent jurisdiction, appealing to the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Peskin said.

Robotaxi interference with first responders was one of the primary concerns raised ahead of the expansion vote, with San Francisco firefighters reporting more than 50 such incidents.

“We’re not trying to put the genie back in the bottle, but we are standing up for public safety,” Peskin said.

California Public Utilities Commission commissioner Genevieve Shiroma acknowledged those concerns during the hearing.

She was the lone vote against expansion and called for Cruise and Waymo to better train first responders.

“What additional training will be provided to our essential first responders so that they will know how to communicate with these driverless autonomous vehicles?” Shiroma asked during the vote.

The San Francisco Fire Department said they are not against modernization and new technologies but any vehicle that endangers the people of the city and its visitors, and would put its passengers between a fire engine and a fire, is not ready for prime time.

Cruise did not respond for comment.

Peskin said he does think these kinks can be worked out.

“We want to work with them to smooth out the rough edges, but it’s not going to be their way or, pun-intended, the highway,” he said.