A Waymo self-driving van cruised through a Chandler, Arizona, neighborhood Aug. 1 when test driver Michael Palos saw something startling as he sat behind the wheel — a bearded man in shorts aiming a handgun at him as he passed the man’s driveway.
It’s just one of nearly two dozen attacks of a new form of road rage aimed at the experimental program for parent company Google’s series of test drives of autonomous vehicles.
People have thrown rocks at Waymos. The tire on one was slashed while it was stopped in traffic. The vehicles have been yelled at, chased and one Jeep was responsible for forcing the vans off roads six times.
Police arrested 69-year-old Roy Leonard Haselton who was said to be holding a gun on the test driver.
The self-driving vans use radar, lidar and cameras to navigate, so they capture footage of all interactions that usually is clear enough to identify people and read license plates.
According to police reports, Waymo test drivers rarely pursue charges and arrests are rare. Haselton was charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct, and police confiscated his .22-caliber Harrington and Richardson Sportsman revolver.
Haselton said he despises the cars, claiming Uber had killed someone with one.
Apparently, incidents of this kind are not unusual, with test drivers calling their dispatchers when they are threatened or harassed, using the in-car, push-button communications system, which allows them to talk without holding a phone.
They often do this instead of calling police directly, according to the reports.
“Safety is at the core of everything we do, which means that keeping our drivers, our riders and the public safe is our top priority,” Waymo said in a statement.
Phil Simon, an information systems lecturer at Arizona State University and author of several books on technology and public reaction to autonomous vehicles in their neighborhoods.
“This stuff is happening fast and a lot of people are concerned that technology is going to run them out of a job,” Simon said.
He said the book, “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity,” by Douglas Rushkoff attempts to explain the public backlash against successful technology companies with highly paid executives.
In some cases, residents have called the police when they see self-driving cars on the street.
One resident said: “Everybody hates Waymo drivers. They are dangerous.”