Texas-based journalist Caitlin Giddings has shared her experience riding among the new fleet of self-driving taxis in Austin, the capital of Texas, USA.

These new driverless cars, introduced to the city by General Motors in December 2022, are incredibly cautious and endlessly patient but, from Giddings’ account, it appears that the cars are so nervous that they cause more harm than good.

They clog up quiet roads as they drive around without any passengers in the back, and are so deferential to other road users that they can become a nuisance to cyclists.

Writing about her own experience in Mens Journal, Giddings describes how a recent ride was marred by run-ins with driverless vehicles. She reports that within the five-mile radius around the Capitol, she passed at least 30 Cruise cars, many of which acted unpredictably or strangely.

Giddings saw “empty Cruise cars passing each other in every lane, Cruise cars that gave up and started idling the second they came within 15 feet of us, Cruise cars that suddenly accelerated in our direction before braking, Cruise cars stacked up four deep behind us at traffic lights”.

In one instance, an eery electric vehicle sidled up behind the group that Giddings was riding with. It stopped behind the group, not responding when the group (who didn’t realise the car was without a driver) signalled for the car to pass safely around the gaggle of stationary riders. In fact, it lurched forward at the group, before stopping still. The car then sat motionless, refusing to move, until each and every cyclist had cleared themselves from both lanes of the road.

Worse than their strange characteristics is the fact that these cars circle around endlessly, blocking up otherwise quiet residential streets as they cruise around waiting for a passenger to book them.

“Robot taxis carrying no one on otherwise empty back roads. Without these self-driving cars, we would have had the route to ourselves,” says Giddings.

More broadly, people have had reservations about the cameras sitting atop driverless cars like the Cruise cars. If tampered with, the cars start recording, leading local residents to fear the surveillance capabilities of these cars. In some instances, such as in the video below, people have taken to vandalising the cars.

We doubt destruction is the right way to solve the question marks surrounding driverless vehicles – ultimately, it seems likely that these cars are going to be significantly safer than cars with a human at the wheel. As Giddings points out, “a Cruise car always uses its turn signal. A Cruise car never drinks and drives, nor does it speed […] If you hear of a road rage incident on the news, you can bet your life that it wasn’t initiated by a Cruise car who had a bad day.”

Nonetheless, as it stands right now, the Cruise car concept has a few rough edges that need knocking off. Not the most encouraging news as driverless taxi services begin to expand across the States, with Waymo, another San Francisco-born driverless taxi service, entering Los Angeles and Austin, and with Tesla’s Robotaxi concept revealed just days ago.

This is technology that could make the roads a lot safer for cyclists, but only time will tell how smoothly the transition into driverless vehicles will be.


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