Car Industry

Arizonans waging guerrilla warfare against self-driving Waymo vans

Some locals don't want Waymo's vans in their town, and they're displaying that distaste in equally distasteful ways.

Waymo

Not everyone is ready to accept self-driving cars in their own neighborhoods, but it appears some Arizonans are taking that to the extreme with methods that would be right at home with the Van der Linde Gang.

The New York Times published a story on Monday about how some residents of Chandler, Arizona, have been waging guerrilla-style attacks against Waymo's self-driving vehicles. Vans have had their tires slashed, and other locals have tried to run the vans off the road. The NYT says that one attack involved a person threatening a Waymo employee "with a piece of PVC pipe." One person even waved a gun at a Waymo vehicle.

According to the story, which quotes some people involved in this fracas, the chaos stems from some residents' distaste for the vans. Last August, The Information published a report along these lines, quoting locals who complained that the vans followed the letter of the law too closely and snarling traffic with seemingly abrupt braking and stopping. Clearly, Chandler's citizens have some frustrations about having self-driving cars in their midst, but waging guerrilla warfare against them probably won't lead to a constructive dialogue.

Of all the ways to show your distaste for Waymo's vehicles, attacking them with pipes, knives or guns isn't the preferred one.

Waymo

The NYT cites The Arizona Republic's report that claims Waymo vans have been attacked at least 21 times. Yet, according to the NYT report, Waymo doesn't appear all that interested in seeking justice. Waymo's own safety drivers told the NYT that the company "preferred not to pursue prosecution of the assailants," and that's backed up in at least one police officer's report, which claimed Waymo didn't want to disrupt its efforts in Chandler further.

"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," said a Waymo spokesperson in an emailed statement. "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 first responders." 

Waymo told the NYT that the company will "report incidents we deem to pose a danger and we have provided photos and videos to local law enforcement when reporting these acts of vandalism or assault."

Waymo's vehicles are still in development, and thus are pretty likely to continue being on their best legal behavior on Chandler's roads. Other companies have attempted to bridge this gulf with systems that more closely model human behaviors behind the wheel. Mobileye, for example, has its Responsibility-Sensitive Safety system, which attempts to mimic human behavior rather than following the law explicitly, something we experienced firsthand in Israel in 2018.

Waymo's long-term goal is to create a full commercial mobility service based on its autonomous platform, something it's made strides toward with the launch of its Waymo One service in December. While it's understandable that some people may not enjoy having their town treated as a technological test bed, and it's also understandable that others may be concerned about autonomy and how it will affect employment, committing asymmetrical warfare against robot vans and their very real human backups likely won't solve anything.

Update, 4:00 p.m. Eastern: Added manufacturer comment.

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