WTF?! Anti-car activists have come up with a novel and effective way of disabling driverless vehicles owned by Waymo and Cruise in San Francisco: placing traffic cones on their hoods. It's the work of a group called Safe Streets Rebel, which has launched a protest dubbed "Week of Cone."
Safe Streets Rebel's protest comes after autonomous vehicles were blamed for incidents including crashing into a bus and running over a dog. City officials in June said there have been ninety incidents involving Alphabet's Waymo and General Motors' Cruise vehicles since January.
Adding to Safe Streets Rebel's anger is an upcoming ruling by the California public utilities commission that will decide whether autonomous vehicle companies can expand both the number of vehicles they operate in San Francisco and robotaxis' hours of operation, from the middle of the night to 24/7.
A postcard, with love pic.twitter.com/tO4EOOSfao– ConeSF - Week of Cone (@SafeStreetRebel) July 11, 2023
A video from the group that has gained almost 5 million views on Twitter points out that AVs block buses, emergency vehicles, and everyday traffic. It also claims that they're partnering with police to record everyone all the time without anyone's consent. And, most importantly, they require streets designed for cars, not people or transit.
The video goes on to explain how to disable one of the vehicles by simply finding a traffic cone, which are "everywhere," and gently placing it on the hood – but make sure the car is empty first. The group is encouraging people to join in the protest again the AV companies and upcoming vote by disabling one of the cars.
A group of San Franciscans realized that they can disable Waymo and Cruise robotaxis by placing a traffic cone on the vehicle's hood.– David Zipper (@DavidZipper) July 6, 2023
They're now encouraging others to do it: "Hell no, we do not consent to this." pic.twitter.com/ZrYhy4OATy
"It's a great time," one of the organizers said. "We're not damaging anyone's property, it's very fixable, but it is a funny and effective tactic that has really resonated."
Waymo was less enthusiastic about the practice. A spokesperson said that the cone protest reflects a lack of understanding of how autonomous vehicles work and is "vandalism and encourages unsafe and disrespectful behavior on our roadways." Waymo says it will call the police on anyone caught interfering with its fleet of robotaxis.
Cruise, meanwhile, pointed out that its vehicles have never been involved in a single fatality or serious injury after racking up 3 million miles on San Francisco streets.
KRON4 reports that city officials have said the protest could cause more congestion as a disabled autonomous vehicle requires tech experts to reset it.
The organizer of the protest told The Guardian that it was just the latest of several actions Safe Streets Rebel has taken as it tries to get cars off city streets, secure more funding for public transportation, and keep bikers and pedestrians safe. The group says that AVs pose many risks to safety and the environment, even though they are being sold as alternatives to cars.
"They still require wide roads, tire wear, they have cameras everywhere," the organizer said. "It's not just about 'are they safer than a human driver?' We want healthy cities that don't require these high-tech surveillance pods moving around."