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Waymo, newly unleashed on freeways, causes chaos on 101 ramp

A driverless car is seen reflected in a car rearview window.
A autonomous Waymo drives through San Francisco on July 18, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

An autonomous Waymo led its robotaxi brethren and several human drivers down a closed road on Tuesday night, causing traffic chaos on a San Francisco Highway 101 on-ramp, the Alphabet-owned company told The Standard Thursday.

In early March, the California Public Utilities Commission approved Waymo's use of freeways to ferry passengers and expand its service along Highway 101 into San Mateo County.

A short video posted to Reddit captured the scene, which shows at least four Waymos that appear to be blocking traffic. A Waymo spokesperson said six of its autonomous vehicles were involved in the incident.

"After sitting in the car waiting for several minutes, a couple of people came out and started moving traffic cones and a construction sign to allow traffic to pass through," the Reddit poster said. "I'm not sure how much traffic passed through since there was a Muni bus right behind me that couldn't take this detour, but it was a pretty shitty situation all around. I guess autonomous vehicles still aren't fully there yet."

A Waymo spokesperson said the incident began at around 9:30 p.m., when one of its vehicles headed back to its San Francisco depot.

"The Waymo driver pulled over to a safe location, out of the traffic lane, in an area blocked by cones," the spokesperson said. "Other vehicles, both human and autonomously driven, followed the Waymo vehicle into the road closure."

The spokesperson added that the Waymo vehicle could not reroute because its only other path was to take the freeway. Currently, the company only uses Bay Area freeways with a human driver.

Waymo said its roadside assistance team was dispatched to help clear all six Waymo vehicles and all lanes were clear within 30 minutes. Other Waymos were directed to use alternate routes.

George Kelly can be reached at