Autonomous vehicles may seem like a futuristic idea to many, but they (primarily Waymo and Cruise) cruise around my San Francisco neighborhood almost continuously. I saw three vehicles while walking one block to and from the pool early this morning and have seen as many as one per minute in the early evening.

The uptick in vehicles started during the pandemic. We’d see them at all times of the day and night with a driver and co-pilot (often). I assume they were mapping our streets. In the past year, I’ve seen far more without drivers than with drivers.

Much of the press has been negative. The cars have approached emergency scenes, stopped in the middle of streets, and been stalled or confused by fog.

At first, I gazed at these driverless vehicles in wonder. I would equate a sighting to seeing a wild animal like a coyote or fox on my street. Then I started to interact with them. I tried to open the doors, peer in, step towards them while moving, etc. to see what might happen. I studied their behavior (e.g., speed, distance between parked cars, time to start at a stop light). I took videos. I took selfies (safely) from cross walks. I now invite visitors from out of town to come to my neighborhood to watch them. I’d call myself an expert at sighting them from a distance – even in the dark.

I now find them comforting and wish there were more of them. What do I like? These autonomous vehicles:

  • Obey the speed limit or drive below it. I live on a hill. Many cars speed down it and drive far over the speed limit. Each year, pedestrians and cyclists are killed by cars in San Francisco.
  • Are not emotional or distracted. These cars are neither stressed nor in a hurry. They don’t beep at you if you jaywalk. There are no drivers so there’s also no shouting, obscenities, or road rage.
  • Slow down and respect crosswalks. There’s a crosswalk near my home. I cross the street several times each day to take my dog to the park. Few cars with drivers slow down or stop. The autonomous cars also don’t encroach on the sidewalks.
  • Move away from the corner before pulling over. I wish they’d pull over completely to pick up passengers or drop them off. They usually move two to three homes or businesses in from a corner so they don’t obstruct the vision of other cars looking to turn.
  • Stop gently. When I stepped (just a little) towards an autonomous vehicle making a right turn, it stopped gently. I didn’t ask it to make a difficult decision. Still a very courteous stop.

I live in the Lone Mountain neighborhood of San Francisco. I believe the neighborhood is safer with autonomous vehicles than without them. Ping me if you’d like to see videos or photos of the vehicles. They’re fun to observe.