Waymo finally launched its public self-driving ride-sharing program in Arizona last month after a year of testing, but it’s been a year full of gun-wielding, rock-throwing, tire-slashing Arizonians targeting the company’s vans.
It only took a few months of testing on the public roads in the Phoenix, Arizona area for the locals to start turning against Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica vans, according to police reports from 2018 via the New York Times.
By far the most alarming incident targeting a Waymo self-driving van last year involved a man waving a handgun at one of the company’s cars and the car’s operator, according to the Times. The man cited the killing of Elaine Herzberg, a pedestrian who was struck by an Uber self-driving test vehicle in Tempe, Arizona back in March, and claimed he despised self-driving cars.
The Times report also claims one incident involved a person pulling up alongside one of Waymo’s vans and waving a PVC pipe at the operator. In October, someone walked up to a van idling in an intersection and slashed its tires. Other incidents involved operators reporting rocks being thrown at their cars.
Erik O’Polka was warned by police to stop his attempts to run Waymo vans off the road after multiple complaints. Here’s more on Polka, and his wife who has also allegedly targeted Waymo’s vans, via the Times:
“There are other places they can test,” said Erik O’Polka, 37, who was issued a warning by the police in November after multiple reports that his Jeep Wrangler had tried to run Waymo vans off the road — in one case, driving head-on toward one of the self-driving vehicles until it was forced to come to an abrupt stop.
His wife, Elizabeth, 35, admitted in an interview that her husband “finds it entertaining to brake hard” in front of the self-driving vans, and that she herself “may have forced them to pull over” so she could yell at them to get out of their neighborhood. The trouble started, the couple said, when their 10-year-old son was nearly hit by one of the vehicles while he was playing in a nearby cul-de-sac.
“They said they need real-world examples, but I don’t want to be their real-world mistake,” said Mr. O’Polka, who runs his own company providing information technology to small businesses.
As wild and dangerous as many of these incidents are, Waymo seems to want to avoid pursuing prosecution of the idiots targeting its cars. The Times reports that many of the police reports indicate the drivers involved in the incidents requested not to seek prosecution, or that the company itself refused to hand over photographic and video evidence to the police.
In one police report seen by the Times, a Waymo manager showed the officer evidence of a PT Cruise repeatedly swerving at one of the company’s vans, but did not allow the officer to keep the evidence, claiming the company was worried it could disrupt its self-driving operations.
A spokeswoman for Waymo responded to claims that the company was letting people get away with these acts to avoid bad publicity. From the Times:
Ms. Georgeson said the company took the safety of its emergency drivers seriously and disputed claims that Waymo was trying to avoid bad publicity by opting against pursuing criminal charges.
“We 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,” Ms. Georgeson said. “We support our drivers and engage in cases where an act of vandalism has been perpetrated against us.”
According to 9to5Google, it’s company policy in most situations to contact Waymo’s dispatch network before contacting the police, which seems totally normal and not at all suspicious.
Waymo seems mostly concerned by the impact on testing the attacks have, forcing the emergency operators to take the car out of self-driving mode. That’s not to mention how stupidly dangerous it is to try and damage or crash another car on public streets, with plenty of other human drivers around.