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Locals Attacking Self-Driving Cars in Arizona Town

The increasingly widespread use of self-driving cars in pilot projects has elicited any number of safety-related concerns among members of the public. A small but increasing percentage of those disturbed by the presence of autonomous vehicles are translating their hostility into violent action.

The last two years have seen a number of attacks carried out on self-driving cars operated by Waymo, the Google-founded company developing technologies and vehicles in the domain. Since 2017, the company has had a fleet of autonomous vehicles operating on public roads in Arizona, and some local residents aren’t happy about it.

Some attacks have been verbal in nature, perpetrated on occupants of the test vehicles, but others don’t end there. There have been reports of stones being thrown at the driverless cars, and even some cases of tires being slashed using sharp objects.

Police in the city of Chandler have recorded 25 separate accidents carried out in the past two years against Waymo’s self-driving cars, which are always occupied by a person sitting behind the wheel who is ready to intervene in case of a malfunction of the automated system.

Evidently, that supervisory presence by a human is not enough for some people. Some attackers have expressed anger over the case of a pedestrian who was struck and killed by an Uber self-driving car in Tempe in March of 2018.

One person who received a warning from police, Erick O’Polka, summed up the attitude of many who are hostile to the new technology, saying “There are other places they can test.” Several witnesses saw the 37-year-old Chandler resident drive his vehicle aggressively towards the Waymo car in an attempt to get it to crash. His wife Elizabeth mentioned her husband’s amusement at the gesture, and admitted that she herself had previously forced the vehicles to a stop so she could harangue the emergency backup driver inside and compel them to leave the neighborhood.

The couple explained that their 10-year-old son had almost been struck by a Waymo vehicle while playing in a cul-de-sac near their home.

Authorities expect that the number of attacks on autonomous vehicles will increase as more pilot projects spring up around the country. According to Chandler police, in addition to the safety concerns, some opponents of the technology also cite the jobs that could be lost when it becomes more ubiquitous.

Here’s hoping calmer heads will prevail over time.

Photo: Waymo