A new investigative report shows that one in four San Francisco school crossing guards have had a “close call” with a self-driving vehicle, though many of the other guards say that the autonomous cars drive better than people do.

The latest subset of people complaining about self-driving cars’ safety (or lack thereof) is school crossing guards. A new NBC Bay Area report speaks with dozens San Francisco school crossing guards, a fair number of whom say the autonomous vehicles have nearly hit them or the children whom they were shepherding across the street. That station says they spoke to “30 school crossing guards stationed at more than 20 schools across San Francisco,” and found that one out of every four they interviewed had experienced a “close call” where they or the children were nearly hit by a self-driving car.

“I just don’t think it’s very safe,” 11-year veteran school crossing guard Theresa Dorn told the station, noting that she or the kids had nearly been hit by an autonomous car in three separate incidents over the last year. “The parent grabbed the child, looked at the car, and there was nobody driving it.”

Dorn was the only crossing guard who gave her name. And breaking down the math, if “nearly one in four” crossing guards out of 30 NBC Bay Area spoke to reported such incidents, that means around eight crossing guards say they’ve encountered this problem. So eight is not really a lot, though some anonymously gave comments like “I’ve almost been hit half a dozen times.”

Others said they found the autonomous vehicles to be safer drivers than human beings. “I’ve almost been hit by parents, not driverless cars,” one crossing guard told the station. Another one said, “they stop better than people.”

Self-driving car company Waymo is the only company running large-scale autonomous vehicle driving in San Francisco right now, as their competitor Cruise has suspended its own operations over a massive safety disaster. Waymo declined to answer NBC Bay Area’s questions, but said in a statement to the station that “while we’re proud of our safety record, we also recognize the importance of ensuring that other road users feel confident and comfortable around our technology.”

Cruise in front of me yesterday illegally went through a Stop sign and nearly ran over two moms and their kids.
byu/lordnla insanfrancisco

But this story certainly dovetails into concerns about self-driving cars’ behavior around children, and whether they recognize smaller people as, you know, people. All of the incidents cited in the NBC Bay Area reports are anecdotal and unconfirmed. But the station also did a California Public Records Act request on complaints submitted to the DMV about self-driving cars, and found there were about 200 complaints filed in 2023, 30% of these being about the cars’ behavior at crosswalks.

US congressional Rep. Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) says this is why he’s demanding that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration force self-driving companies to report their near-misses, not just their collisions. “Those kinds of incidents where people’s lives are put at risk – but it’s not reportable – we need to be looking at those,” Mullin told NBC Bay Area.

Related: Waymo Now Under Federal Investigation For 22 Crash and Safety Violation Incidents [SFNews]

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews