Guns, Drunks, and Rage: Waymo Self-driving Vans Targeted by Angry Arizonians

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
guns drunks and rage waymo self driving vans targeted by angry arizonians

Waymo began testing its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix-area city of Chandler, Arizona two years ago, and the local populace hasn’t left them alone since.

A report in the Arizona Republic describes a multitude of incidents where citizens, apparently enraged by the sight of the Waymo vans, decided to threaten and attack their autonomous invaders. Unbeknownst to many of them, the vans were recording their every move.

One shirtless Chandler man decided it was time for a showdown, emerging from his home to point a .22-calibre revolver at the van and its human safety driver. Hoping to scare the driver, the man, who, according to his wife, had become obsessed with the vans, succeeded in his goal. 69-year-old Roy Leonard Haselton was arrested on Aug. 8 for the Aug. 1 incident.

The van’s camera, which operates in tandem with radar and lidar to guide the vehicle down the mean Arizona streets, assisted in his identification. “Haselton stated that he despises and hates those cars (Waymo) and said how Uber had killed someone,” said Detective Cameron Jacobs of the Chandler Police Department in a report.

Haselton was referring to the March collision between an Uber Technologies Volvo and a pedestrian on a darkened Tempe, Arizona street. A federal probe is ongoing in that fatal crash; Uber stopped Arizona testing permanently in its wake.

But one man with a gun is just the tip of the iceberg. Chandler police cite at least 21 incidents in which citizens have purposely harassed Waymo vehicles and their drivers over the past two years.

In September 2017, a man threw rocks at two Waymo vans. Over the course of several months that year, a black Jeep engaged six Waymo vans in a game of chicken — pulling into the oncoming lane in an attempt to cause the Waymo swerve out of the way, or maybe just to see if it would. The driver of at least one Waymo van had to take manual control of the vehicle to avoid a head-on collision.

The driver of the marauding black Jeep was particularly prolific in their attempt to literally get Waymo vehicles off the road. After a game of chicken forced one Waymo to a stop in April 2017, “The driver of the black Jeep, who was described as an adult female, jumped out of her vehicle yelling at the Waymo driver to get out of her neighborhood,” the police report states.

Police eventually traced the vehicle’s plate, but the mother of the man it was registered to wouldn’t cop to being the angry driver.

In August, a “heavily intoxicated” 37-year-old man stood in front of a Waymo van on a residential street, preventing it from continuing its journey. A police report written by Officer Richard Rimbach states the man “was sick and tired of the Waymo vehicles driving in his neighborhood, and apparently thought the best idea to resolve this was to stand in front of one of these vehicles.”

Other residents have called the police on Waymo vehicles. One Waymo driver, who claims to have been conducting a diagnostics check, received a visit from a Chandler police officer who said a local resident was concerned the driver was watching kids. The woman on the other end of the phone, Juli Ferguson, told the Arizona Republic, “Everybody hates Waymo drivers. They are dangerous.”

In many cases, it comes down to a battle against the machines. Yes, like Terminator. It’s a battle driven by fear of technology and a desire to keep things the way they are, explained Phil Simon, an information systems lecturer at Arizona State University.

“This stuff is happening fast and a lot of people are concerned that technology is going to run them out of a job,” he said, adding that it’s hard to embrace disruptive new technologies if your own circumstances and income have not improved.

“There are always winners and losers, and these are probably people who are afraid and this is a way for them to fight back in some small, futile way.”

In this war, anyone can become a John Conner.

Interestingly, the article claims numerous threats made towards the Waymo safety drivers never make it to a police report. In the wake of the first incidents, Waymo, a subsidiary of Google owner Alphabet, encouraged drivers to contact their dispatcher in the event of harassment, and the police if necessary. Still, the article notes that Waymo seems to prefer keeping a low profile, with few police reports filed.

“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,” the company said in a statement to the newspaper.

[Images: Waymo]

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  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Dec 16, 2018

    People are seeing this as yet another encroachment by corporations in league with govt to restrict their access or monitor them on roadways. They start thinking, "Hey, my taxes pay for that road for me to drive on, now I have to share it with some damn robot! We'll see about that!"

  • Erikstrawn Erikstrawn on Dec 17, 2018

    I keep hearing people say how computers will never be fully capable drivers, but then I drive to work and realize most people driving have that same problem.

  • Arthur Dailey This is still the only 'car' show that our entire family enjoys. This is not Willie Mays with the Mets style of decline. More like Gretzky with the Blues. It may not be their 'best' work but when it works the magic is still there.
  • Cprescott Are there any actual minvans left? Honduh and Toyoduh are bloated messes - the Kia Carnival as well. These vehicles are within inches of a 1960's short wheelbase Ford Econoline in size. Hardly mini.
  • Arthur Dailey Ford was on a roll with these large cars. The preferred colours being either green or brown. The brown was particularly 'brougham'. Chrysler vehicles also seemed particularly popular in green during that era. Ford's 'aircraft' inspired instrument 'pod' for the driver rather than the 'flat' instrument panel was deemed 'futuristic' at the time. Note that this vehicle does not have the clock. The hands and numbers are missing. Having the radio controls on the left side of the driver could however be infuriating. Although I admire pop-up/hideaway headlights, Ford's vacuum powered system was indeed an issue. If I left my '78 T-Bird parked for more than about 12 hours, there was a good chance that when I returned the headlight covers had retracted. The first few times this happened it gave me a 'start' as I feared that I may have left the lights on and drained the battery.
  • Jeff S Still a nice car and I remember these very well especially in this shade of green. The headlights were vacuum controlled. I always liked the 67 thru 72 LTDs after that I found them bloated. Had a friend in college with a 2 door 71 LTD which I drove a couple of times it was a nice car.
  • John H Last week after 83 days, dealership said mine needs new engine now. They found metal in oil. Potential 8 to 9 month wait.
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