VIDEO: Autonomous vehicles cause chaotic scene in West Campus

Video and photos captured early Sunday morning, and shared on social media, show what appears to be dozens of driverless cars lining a block in West Campus and blocking traffic.

"It was just insane," said Russell Coleman, a West Campus resident. "They need to get better at seeing where each other is positionally and lining up. I mean, all of them are facing sideways in the street, trying to navigate around each other, even though they're all part of the same network."

Living in West Campus, students Coleman and Matthew Seiler are used to seeing cars with no drivers.

Seiler is currently in the middle of a Cruise promotion that provides a week free of rides. His first ride was over the weekend. He said there was a moment where they were at a standstill when the street wasn’t wide enough for two Cruise cars to drive through at the same time. Eventually, one backed up to allow the other through.

"I think they had to manually do that," said Seiler. "We actually talked to a guy in the car, he called on the system, and he was asking about what happened."

According to a September memo by the interim director of the Transportation and Public Works Dept. (TPW), there are 125 AVs deployed on Austin roads. Three AV companies are operating in Austin: Cruise, Waymo, and Volkswagen ADMT.

"In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 2205 to amend the Texas Transportation Code with new policies governing the operation of autonomous vehicles (AVs). State law pre-empts local authority of self-driving vehicles; SB 2205 made rules uniform for AVs across the state, putting regulation and oversight in the hands of the state government rather than local municipalities," said a TPW spokesperson in a statement shared with FOX 7 on Monday. "Although cities in Texas cannot regulate AVs, Austin has worked with autonomous vehicle companies as they enter the market to offer staff's knowledge on the local transportation network to help AVs operate more safely."

In 2021, Texas also passed another law, HB 3026, related to the operation and regulation of autonomous vehicles.

The September memo listed some of the main concerns surrounding the driverless vehicles, which include having difficulty following traffic directions from law enforcement or construction workers and AVs blocking first responders. 

They are not aware of any pedestrian, cyclist, or scooter injuries to date.

"I absolutely see a benefit to it, but it has to be done in the right way," said Council member Mackenzie Kelly, a member of the Mobility Committee. "And when it does become a danger to the community, and we see videos such as the one that we did see over the weekend, then it raises concerns."

TPW recently formed an AV task force alongside APD, AFD and ATCEMS that will collect feedback and gather incident data.

"Where they're at right now, I would say it's not as practical as Uber, but it’s cool, and it’s a fun gimmick," said Coleman. "I think in the future it will be a lot more feasible, but they have to start somewhere, right? They have to start building the network, and they have to start getting all of these data points."

West Campus resident Syed Husain noted that the area may be a bit dangerous as a hub for these vehicles but also a good training ground.

"Students, they're just running the stop signs," said Husain. "It’s really interesting to see how the car makes a judgment if, like, a student wants to go or if pedestrians, they don't really care about the stop sign, and they just want to keep on going if they're late for a class or something."

In a statement shared with FOX 7 regarding the incident over the weekend, a spokesperson for Cruise said, "Once we were aware of the crowding event on Sunday morning, we were able to address it and all vehicles departed the area autonomously. We apologize for any inconvenience."

No further information was provided.