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Driverless car complaints in Austin describe collisions, near misses and confusion

Editor’s note: The above video shows KXAN Live’s top morning headlines for Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin has received more than 40 complaints related to driverless cars since July, according to city data.

Complaints range from the self-driving cars blocking traffic or being a nuisance to near misses and even collisions.

The Austin Transportation and Public Works department collected 41 complaints between July 8 and Oct. 1, about half of which came from the public.

Fourteen complaints were submitted by employees of the Austin Fire Department, while seven came from the police department. One complaint was submitted by a construction crew.

Complaints in Austin

Forty of the 41 complaints were about the company Cruise, which expanded driverless rideshare services in Austin in July, data stated.

Near misses were the most common complaint, with 15 in total. One of those, submitted by AFD on July 8, said a driverless car almost cut off an EMS unit “and came very close to colliding with the ambulance twice.” Other complaints said the cars have come close to hitting pedestrians in crosswalks.

Five collisions were reported, including one report submitted by APD on Aug. 30 that said a self-driving car had collided with a parked car. Another collision was reported Sept. 18 by someone who said an autonomous car collided with their car as it tried to change lanes. Damage was limited to scratches and dents, but the driverless car “left the scene of the accident without stopping.”

Three complaints involve the cars not following directions from police officers. One officer said the “biggest and probably the most dangerous” issue is when driverless cars encounter police directing traffic.

“They don’t know how to follow our signals/commands, just the traffic lights/stop signs,” the officer wrote. “If we are flowing traffic against a light/opposite a light pattern, they will blow through or just stop.”

The officer said in a complaint submitted Aug. 7 that this was happening “almost nightly” around the University of Texas campus when officers were directing traffic for Moody Center events.

Another complaint submitted by an APD employee Oct. 1 said he saw a similar issue while directing traffic for a UT football game. “These vehicles are becoming a major problem and someone is going to get hurt, probably one of us,” the complaint read.

Cruise improves technology for emergency vehicle protection

Earlier this month, Cruise said it had worked to improve its technology to better detect emergency vehicles, writing in a blog post that innovations include better siren detection, slowing down when a scene or siren is detected and recognizing and avoiding emergency scenes.

“We recognize the unique challenges first responders may face when interacting with an autonomous vehicle that has no driver present,” the company said. “We strive to be a good partner and leverage our technology to help support those who serve the community.”

Cruise is also asking the public to report incidents with its cars by emailing community@getcruise.com. The company says you should include the date, time and name of the vehicle.

“Anytime there’s an incident or accident, we review absolutely everything, so we take this very seriously,” Michael Staples, general manager for Cruise in the Austin market, previously told KXAN.

People riding in a Cruise car can shake their phone with the app open to provide instant feedback about any issues during the ride.

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