SF fire chief says autonomous vehicles aren't ready for prime time at California PUC meeting

The debate over the future of self-driving cars is picking up steam. Safety was the top concern for at Monday's California Public Utilities Commission meeting, bringing autonomous vehicle companies Waymo and Cruise face to face with first responders who've raised concerns about the vehicles.

San Francisco Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson said there have been more than 50 cases of the self-driving vehicles interfering with or impeding emergency responders so far this year. 

"I appreciate the safety that autonomous vehicles can bring to the table in terms of no drunk drivers, no speeding all of that kind of stuff," said Chief Nicholson. "However, they're still not ready for prime time because of how they've impacted our operations."

Waymo and Cruise both cite safety statistics saying their vehicles are safe. "Cruise AVs have now driven 3 million miles safely, the vast majority of which go unnoticed," said Prashanthi Raman from Cruise.

The companies say the number of stopped autonomous cars is trending downward, and that every instance is an opportunity to learn how to do better. "When there's an issue and the interactions does not go as well as it could, we work quickly with feedback from first responders to implement improvements." said Shweta Shrivastava from Waymo.

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Outside before the hearing, those opposed to autonomous vehicles like taxi driver Matthew Sutter held their own rally he says expanding the number autonomous vehicles on the roads would take away his livelihood, based on what he calls unproved technology. He says taxi drivers are already making half of what they did in 2010, and that's after he paid a quarter million dollars for his taxi medallion. 

"I've been driving 31 years here in San Francisco and I feel cheated," said Sutter.

The PUC is set to meet again on Thursday to take up the debate about expanding autonomous taxi service.


Activists disable SF autonomous vehicles by placing traffic cones on hoods to make a point

As sophisticated as driverless cars are, a group called the Safe Street Rebels simply place traffic cones on their hoods that stops them cold.