Police arrested an Arizona man Wednesday for allegedly causing an autonomous car to ram his own vehicle.
But what might sound like just another day in the desert paradise of Tempe got weirder when the suspect turned out to have a history as a vehicle operator linked to the manufacturer of the high-tech car in question, Google’s Waymo.
According to Tempe police, Raymond Tang, 31, admitted to Tempe police that he was “brake checking” a Waymo car—or slamming the brakes at unexpected times, in hopes of being rear ended. He was allegedly successful, and a self-driving vehicle slammed into his Mazda sedan around 10:30 p.m. January 30, as a local ABC affiliate previously reported. The Waymo vehicle’s autonomous driving was not engaged at the time of the crash, according to Tempe police, and the driver was the only one inside the vehicle.
“His initial statement was that a pedestrian ran out into the road, but on reviewing the videos, it’s clear that isn’t the case,” Greg Bacon, a spokesman for the Tempe police department, told The Daily Beast. “He admitted to brake checking the car in his interview with the detective, and we are treating it as an intentional act.”
Footage viewed by The Daily Beast showed a car swerving towards multiple Waymo vehicles and braking in front of them on open roads nowhere near traffic lights, including the hard brake that caused the eventual wreck.
Tang was in the Tempe city jail awaiting a February 20 arraignment on charges of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, felony criminal damage, endangerment, and reckless driving, according to a Maricopa County sheriff’s office database. It was not clear if Tang had an attorney, and he could not be reached for comment for this story.
A former vehicle operator with Waymo contractor Genesis 10, according to LinkedIn profile appearing to belong to him, Tang saw his contract with the autonomous carmaker lapse a year prior to the crash after a failure to meet safety standards, Waymo said in a statement. The company said it was cooperating with the investigation, and its parent company Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Waymo, Tang had engaged in similar activity that resulted in misdemeanor charges against him in November 2019. But Bacon said that this type of autonomous vehicle harassment “is the first time where anything like this has been reported in Tempe.” The nearby Chandler police department was investigating other vehicular incidents that may involve Tang, Tempe police said.
If the charges stick, Tang wouldn’t be the first person to have a public beef with an ostensible car of the future. Tesla took out a temporary restraining order against a well-known critic and short-seller after he allegedly harassed three of the company’s employees and drove recklessly close to a Tesla Model 3 as it tested its autopilot feature on a Bay Area highway. But when asked to produce evidence of his misconduct, the company dropped its lawsuit against him.
As one of the few cities where self-driving cars can operate, Tempe has also been the site of controversy over the vehicles that has nothing to do with possibly disgruntled former contractors. In March 2018, an autonomous car run by Uber hit a woman at 40 mph and killed her while the next-generation vehicle’s human “safety” driver was watching The Voice.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify litigation by Tesla against a prominent critic and its outcome.