Wed. Oct 4th, 2023
    Autonomous Vehicle Chaos in Austin Creates Traffic Jam in West Campus

    Video and photos shared on social media have revealed a chaotic scene in West Campus, Austin, where autonomous vehicles were seen blocking the entire street and causing a traffic jam. Residents and onlookers captured the footage, expressing their concerns about the lack of coordination among these driverless cars. Russell Coleman, a West Campus resident, commented on the situation, stating that the vehicles need to improve their ability to perceive each other’s positions and navigate around one another. He noted that all the cars were facing sideways on the street, attempting to maneuver around each other, despite being part of the same network.

    The presence of autonomous vehicles in West Campus is not unusual for residents like Coleman and Matthew Seiler, who are used to seeing driverless cars in the area. Seiler, currently benefiting from a Cruise promotion that offers free rides for a week, experienced a moment when two Cruise cars were unable to pass each other on a narrow street. Eventually, one of the cars had to reverse to allow the other to proceed. Seiler speculated that the drivers had to manually intervene in this situation and even spoke to one of them, who contacted the system for assistance.

    Austin has become a testing ground for autonomous vehicles, with 125 deployed on its roads from various companies such as Cruise, Waymo, and Volkswagen ADMT. The operation of these vehicles falls under the purview of state law rather than local regulations after the passing of Senate Bill 2205 in 2017. The bill standardized the rules governing autonomous vehicles throughout Texas, granting the state government the authority to oversee their operation. However, Austin has still collaborated with autonomous vehicle companies to provide insights and support their efforts to ensure safer operations within the city’s transportation network.

    Despite the excitement surrounding autonomous vehicles, concerns have emerged regarding their ability to follow traffic instructions from law enforcement or construction workers. There have also been reports of these vehicles obstructing first responders. However, there have been no reported injuries involving pedestrians, cyclists, or scooter riders so far.

    To address these concerns and gather incident data, the Transportation and Public Works Department (TPW) has formed an autonomous vehicle task force with the involvement of the Austin Police Department (APD), Austin Fire Department (AFD), and Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS).

    The incident in West Campus has sparked a discussion about the practicality and safety of autonomous vehicles. Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly, a member of the Mobility Committee, highlighted the need for cautious implementation and expressed concerns about the video footage depicting the chaotic scene. However, residents like Syed Husain suggested that while the area may pose some risks, it also serves as a valuable training ground for these vehicles.

    Cruise, one of the companies operating autonomous vehicles in Austin, issued an apology for the crowding event and assured that the vehicles were eventually able to depart the area autonomously. Further details were not provided.

    – Texas Transportation and Public Works Department (TPW)
    – Senate Bill 2205 (Texas Legislature)
    – House Bill 3026 (Texas Legislature)