Confused, self-driving Waymo cars plague dead-end San Francisco street 'every five minutes'

The noise woke one resident who thought there was a spacecraft outside her window.
The noise woke one resident who thought there was a spacecraft outside her window. Photo credit: Getty Images

Aucklanders have all experienced frustrated motorists on traffic-clogged motorways during rush-hour but a street in the US is seeing traffic jams of a different kind, thanks to 'robot' drivers.

A quiet San Francisco cul-de-sac has been transformed into an endless parade of vehicles thanks to Waymo, the autonomous car company.

One resident told the city's KPIX 5 news channel that Waymo's self-driving cars are turning up constantly, both day and night.

When they get to the end of 15th Avenue, however, there's nowhere else for the cars to go. They're then forced to turn around and leave the way they came in, sometimes passing other Waymo vehicles in the process. 

And while there are some pauses, it never really stops, resident Jennifer King told the channel.

"I noticed it while I was sleeping," she said. "I awoke to a strange hum and I thought there was a spacecraft outside my bedroom window.

"It's literally every five minutes. And we’re all working from home, so this is what we hear."

Andrea Lewin, another resident, said it was "a little peculiar".

"And it’s been going on for six, eight weeks, maybe more," she said.

Waymo's Jaguar I-Pace SUVs are full of technology to ensure safety, including rooftop sensors and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) which give the vehicle an accurate understanding of its surroundings.

But it appears that's not enough to stop the cars going down the dead-end street in the first place.

"We continually adjust to dynamic San Francisco road rules. In this case, cars traveling North of California on 15th Ave have to take a u-turn due to the presence of Slow Streets signage on Lake," a Waymo spokesperson said, referring to the city's rules where vehicle traffic is limited through certain residential areas.

"So, the Waymo Driver was obeying the same road rules that any car is required to follow."

The latest quirk with self-driving cars comes in the same week as Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot driver assistance program continued to draw fire from US car safety regulators.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has written to the company asking why it failed to recall its vehicles to update its Autopilot system instead of using an over-the-air software update.

It also questioned the Elon Musk-run company's requirement to use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for beta testing its software.

The issues were raised in two separate letters sent to the company as the NHTSA continues a formal investigation into the Autopilot system after crashes involving Teslas and stationary emergency vehicles.