A self-driving Waymo robotaxi apparently hit a bicyclist at about 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon at 17th and Mississippi streets, which may put a dent in Waymo’s hopes to be considered the safer of the two big self-driving car companies.
While the self-driving car company Cruise has been mired in a public relations nightmare over repeated safety failures, their main rival, Google-owned Waymo, has been touting their supposedly superior safety record. But Waymo’s track record is not exactly spotless either. One of their self-driving cars drove into a construction site last January, others have gotten mobius-looped into dead ends around town, and a Waymo car did collide with a pedestrian in 2021 (though the company said a human was driving at the time).
But we now have reports that a self-driving Waymo hit a cyclist Tuesday afternoon at 17th and Mississippi streets, according to KRON4. And oddly, this was first noted by that district’s supervisor Shamann Walton, who posted to Facebook, “Driverless Waymo vehicle just struck a cyclist at 17th and Mississippi. So much for safety.”
A driverless car struck a cyclist this afternoon in Potrero Hill, according to SFPD, leaving the cyclist w/minor injuries.— Mission Local (@MLNow) February 7, 2024
The car was reportedly a Waymo. No more details were immediately available.
via @WillJarrettData https://t.co/TPYMzkZoCQ
Now luckily, the collision seems to have not been all that severe. According to Mission Local, the SF Fire Department was called to the scene at 2:43 p.m. Tuesday. A department spokesperson told that site the first responders “encountered a cyclist, performed an assessment and the cyclist was not transported to the hospital.” The Chronicle adds that the bicyclist declined a trip to the hospital, and that paramedics agreed a hospital trip was not necessary.
Ina statement, Waymo seemed to pin this on visual obstruction caused by a large truck.
In a statement, Waymo said the collision was the result of a large truck obstructing the bicyclist from the driverless taxi’s view. https://t.co/o0vSaWEwTK— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) February 7, 2024
“The Waymo vehicle was at a complete stop at a four-way intersection,” Waymo said in a statement to the Chronicle. “An oncoming large truck progressed through the intersection in our direction and then, at our turn to proceed, we moved into the intersection. The cyclist was occluded by the truck and quickly followed behind it, crossing into the Waymo vehicle’s path. When they became unoccluded, our vehicle applied heavy braking but was not able to avoid the collision. Waymo notified the police to the scene and the cyclist left on their own, to our knowledge reporting only minor scratches. We are making contact with relevant authorities surrounding this event.”
The Chronicle’s reporting also adds that “It was unclear how many people were passengers in the autonomous vehicle at the time of the crash but police said none of the occupants reported injuries.” Reading between the lines, that indicates there were indeed passengers in the robotaxi at the time of the collision.
Supervisor Walton was not at a loss for words in expressing his mistrust for the self-driving technology as it currently exists. “If you’re going to create something artificial and put it on our roads, it needs to work 100% better than human beings and that’s not the case,” he told the Chronicle.
While this collision seems minor from what we know at the moment, it comes at a time when Waymo is looking to expand its service into Los Angeles and much of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties (including SFO). It’s also a time when Cruise is flailing and facing a highly uncertain future.
So surely Waymo sees this moment as an opportunity to permanently leapfrog their lagging competitor. But incidents like this could hit the brakes on their proposed expansions in a hurry
Image: via Waymo