Waymo autonomous vehicle attacked by an ‘erratic’ pedestrian in Arizona

An “erratic” pedestrian attacked a Waymo autonomous vehicle late Tuesday evening in Tempe, Arizona, smashing the windshield and injuring the safety driver, the company said. It was the latest incident of people in Arizona attacking Waymo vehicles — and occasionally their safety drivers — as the company ramps up its commercial service in the state.

According to the company, a Waymo vehicle was traveling down the street in autonomous mode at 3AM on July 5th when a pedestrian ran out in front of it. The safety driver saw the pedestrian and switched the vehicle into manual mode, bringing it to a full stop before the person leaped onto the hood. The person, whom Waymo spokesperson Nick Smith described as “erratic” then punctured the windshield, injuring the driver.

Police soon apprehended the suspect, and the Waymo driver was transported to a nearby medical facility for treatment — though Smith says the driver was “not seriously harmed.” The company is “in communication with local law enforcement” about the incident, Smith added.

A video of the damaged Waymo vehicle, one of the company’s electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles, was posted on Twitter a few hours after the incident took place.

(A police report of the incident was not immediately made available to confirm Waymo’s version of events.)

Waymo operates a commercial ride-hailing service using both fully driverless vehicles (no safety driver behind the wheel) and vehicles with drivers in Phoenix and the surrounding towns, including Tempe. But while local elected officials and business leaders have welcomed the company with open arms, some residents are less than enthused about sharing the road with Waymo’s robot vehicles.

The company’s vehicles have been subject to a variety of attacks in the past few years, including people threatening or physically attacking them with guns, knives, and rocks. In 2018, The Arizona Republic reported that police in Chandler, one of the towns where Waymo operates, have logged at least two dozen incidents.

Some drivers have tried running Waymo’s vehicles off the road. A man drove up alongside one of the company’s minivans and threatened the safety driver with a piece of PVC pipe, according to The New York Times.

An incident in 2017 when a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe seems to have sparked some of the violent backlash. One man cited the Uber incident when questioned by police after waving a .22-caliber pistol at a Waymo car. (Never mind the fact that Waymo was not involved in the fatal crash.)

Waymo has said that the attacks are few and far between and that the vast majority of its vehicles are able to drive thousands of miles every day without incident.

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