Driver caught with hilariously large Christmas tree on top of van

Sometimes there is such a thing as having too much Christmas cheer. And not just the liquid kind. A van driver was caught on a police speed camera in Plymouth, U.K., over the weekend with tree strapped to the roof that was longer than the vehicle. Police constable Jane Bickley tweeted out an image of … Continue reading “Driver caught with hilariously large Christmas tree on top of van”

Sometimes there is such a thing as having too much Christmas cheer. And not just the liquid kind.

A van driver was caught on a police speed camera in Plymouth, U.K., over the weekend with tree strapped to the roof that was longer than the vehicle.

Police constable Jane Bickley tweeted out an image of the holiday haul with a reminder to other drivers to “please consider the suitability of your vehicle if transporting such a large load.”

Several followers pointed out that the driver at least went to the trouble of wrapping a high visibility jacket to the tip of the trunk, but many agree it looked a little sketchy, while others were reminded of Clark Griswold’s similar gaffe in the classic comedy “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.”

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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

Google-owned Waymo launches autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix

Google's self-driving car spinoff is finally ready to try to profit from its nearly decade-old technology.

Waymo is introducing a small-scale ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area that will include a human behind the wheel in case the robotic vehicles malfunction.

The service debuting Wednesday marks a significant milestone for Waymo, a company that began as a secretive project within Google in 2009. Since then, its cars have robotically logged more 10 million miles on public roads in 25 cities in California, Arizona, Washington, Michigan and Georgia while getting into only a few accidents — mostly fender benders.

The company is initially operating the new service cautiously, underscoring the challenges still facing its autonomous vehicles as they navigate around vehicles with human drivers that don't always follow the same rules as robots.

The service, dubbed Waymo One, at first will only be available to a couple hundred riders, all of whom had already been participating in a free pilot program that began in April 2017. It will be confined to a roughly 100-square-mile area in and around Phoenix, including the neighboring cities of Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert.

Although Waymo has been driving passengers without any humans behind the wheel in its free pilot program, it decided to be less daring with the new commercial service.

"Self-driving technology is new to many, so we're proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind," Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote in Wednesday blog post heralding the arrival of the new service.

The ride-hailing service is launching in the same area where a car using robotic technology from ride-hailing service Uber hit and killed a pedestrian crossing a darkened street in Tempe, Arizona seven months ago. That fatal collision attracted worldwide attention that cast a pall over the entire self-driving car industry as more people began to publicly question the safety of the vehicles.

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"I suspect the Uber fatality has caused Waymo to slow down its pace a bit" and use human safety drivers in its ride-hailing service," said Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid. "If people keep dying, there will be a bigger backlash against these vehicles."

The Uber robotic car had a human safety driver behind the wheel, but that wasn't enough to prevent its lethal accident in March.

Waymo's self-driving vehicles are still susceptible to glitches, as an Associated Press reporter experienced during a mid-October ride in an autonomous minivan alongside Krafcik near company's Mountain View, California, headquarters.

The minivan performed smoothly, even stopping for a jaywalker, before abruptly pulling to the right side of the road. Ahead was a left-turning FedEx delivery truck. In a digital message to the two human backup drivers, the van said it "detected an issue" and it would connect to a rider support agent. Rider support didn't respond, so they switched to manual mode and returned to Waymo headquarters.

At that time, Krafcik conceded to the AP that Waymo's self-driving vehicles were still encountering occasional problems negotiating left-hand turns at complicated intersections.

"I think the things that humans have challenges with, we're challenged with as well," Krafcik said. "So sometimes unprotected lefts are super challenging for a human, sometimes they're super challenging for us."

Waymo eventually plans to open its new ride-hailing app to all comers in the Phoenix area, although it won't say when. It also wants to expand its service to other cities, but isn't saying where. When that happens, it could pose a threat to Uber and the second most popular U.S. ride-hailing service, Lyft, especially since it should be able charge lower prices without the need to share revenue with a human driver in control at all times.

General Motors also is gearing up to begin offering a ride-hailing service through its Cruise subsidiary under the management of a new CEO, Dan Ammann, who has been the Detroit automaker's No. 2 executive. Cruise plans to start its ride-hailing service at some point next year in at least one U.S. city. Another self-driving car company, Drive.ai, has been giving short-distance rides to all comers within Frisco, Texas and Arlington, Texas since the summer.

Man on McDonald’s run gets caught speeding, loses car because he didn’t want his food to get cold

A speeding motorist caught overtaking an undercover police car said he was in a rush because he "didn't want his McDonald’s to get cold".

The reckless driver went around an unmarked vehicle on a single-track road after speeding his way across Sheffield, U.K.

Officers, who pulled the motorist over and checked his details, discovered he wasn't insured to be behind the wheel.

The Volkswagen Golf car was seized by police.

A South Yorkshire Police spokesperson said: "It's been a positive night shift on the beat.

"This vehicle's driver decided to overtake our officers in an unmarked vehicle at excessive speeds, putting everyone's life at risk.

"All because he didn’t want his McDonald's to go cold.

"It just so happened this vehicle wasn't insured either.

"It's safe to say the driver wasn't 'lovin it'.

"Our version of a takeaway was arranged and the driver waved goodbye to his vehicle."

Self-driving vehicles will turn cars into brothels on wheels: study

Self-driving vehicles will lead to a rise in car sex, according to a new study.

People will be more likely to eat, sleep and engage in on-the-road hanky-panky when robot cars become the new normal, according to research published in the most recent issue of the journal Annals of Tourism Research.

“People will be sleeping in their vehicles, which has implications for roadside hotels. And people may be eating in vehicles that function as restaurant pods,” Scott Cohen, who led the study, told Fast Company magazine.

“That led us to think, besides sleeping, what other things will people do in cars when free from the task of driving? And you can see that in the long association of automobiles and sex that’s represented in just about every coming-of-age movie. It’s not a big leap,” said Cohen, a director of research for the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey in England.

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Along with highway hookups, the report also predicts that autonomous vehicles will put prostitution on wheels.

“It’s not impossible or that far-fetched to imagine the red light district on the move. Prostitution doesn’t need to be legal for this to happen. Plenty of illegal activities happen in cars,” Cohen told the magazine.

He added, “Where prostitution is legal, and regulations allow AVs to develop fast and be on roads quickly, we could see this come together rapidly. Europe is one of those places.”

In total, 60 percent of Americans have already had sex in a car, according to the report, which notes sex in self-driving cars will be widespread by the 2040s.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NEW YORK POST

Toyota offers to give Camp Fire hero nurse a new truck

Toyota is coming to the rescue of a nurse who has been heralded for risking his life to aid others during the Camp Fire Paradise, Calif., fire last week.

Allyn Pierce was profiled in a New York Times story that recounted how he and some colleagues were stuck while trying to escape the fire surrounding the Adventist Health Feather River hospital, where he manages the intensive care unit, but when they had the opportunity to get clear, turned around and headed back to the hospital instead.

There, they pulled equipment outside of the endangered buildings and set up a triage center as people were evacuating the facility and the surrounding area. Soon, everyone was out and Pierce filled the seats of his truck and headed through the inferno for safety.

(AP)

After the ordeal, Pierce posted photos of his scorched white truck on his Instagram account, which is full of images of it in happier times. “This truck literally saved my life today,” Pierce wrote.

Unfortunately, while Pierce was unharmed, he lost his home and doesn’t know what’s going to happen with his job. On Monday, he reluctantly posted about a GoFundMe campaign that a well-wisher had set up on his behalf, but he also got some surprising news. Someone at Toyota had heard his story, and the company decided to thank him for his efforts by replacing the truck.

“Our hearts go out to the victims of the devastating California wild fires,” the automaker's statement reads.

”We are extremely grateful to all of the emergency crews who are working tirelessly to extinguish the fires and helping people to safety. We are especially thankful to one hero in particular, Allyn Pierce, for risking his life and sacrificing his Toyota Tundra to drive people to safety. Toyota is so humbled by Mr. Pierce’s selfless act that we’re pleased to offer him a brand new Tundra.”

A new Tundra Crewmax like Pierce’s starts at around $37,000. Pierce has not yet publically commented on the generous offer.

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

Waymo launching self-driving car service next month, report says

A Google-linked autonomous taxi service will officially launch in Phoenix in December, Bloomberg reports.

The ride-hailing scheme will be a direct competitor to Uber and Lyft, and operate under a yet to be announced name.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, has been testing its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in Arizona for the past year and is currently operating a beta version of the service for a select group of users.

The vehicles will initially have human backup drivers on board, but will eventually operate without them. Waymo released a 360-degree in-car video of a fully driverless vehicle earlier this year to offer an idea of what the experience will be like.

(AP)

Waymo's vehicles have been tested over millions of miles and have been involved in a handful of accidents, all of which involved human error. During a recent test in California, the backup driver fell asleep in the car and accidentally hit the gas pedal, which switched it into manual mode and led to a collision with a highway median.

Waymo has already ordered more than 60,000 Pacificas and 20,000 Jaguar I-Pace electric SUVs for the planned service, which will eventually roll out nationwide. The cars will be retrofitted with Waymo’s technology, which includes a roof-mounted array of sensors.

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Pricing for the service is expected to be competitive with its conventional competitors.

The company has not confirmed the details of the report.

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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

North Carolina speeder caught after 157 mph chase

Police in North Carolina caught an alleged street racer early Monday morning who hit 157 mph in a 55 mph zone on highway 70 in Goldsboro.

Mark Allen Crabtree was arrested after leading officers on a chase through two counties, which ended when a spike strip was deployed to flatten the tires on his 2000 Chevrolet Camaro SS, Spectrum News reported.

Police said they believe Crabtree was racing with other vehicles prior to the pursuit, which involved three law enforcement agencies, but no other arrests were made.

Crabtree is facing several counts, including reckless driving, property damage and Felony Fleeing to Elude, and was released on a $3,000 bond.

His car was seized under the state’s “Run and Done” law, which is aimed at preventing high-speed pursuits and could lead to the forfeiture and auction of the vehicle if Crabtree is convicted, with the proceeds earmarked for the North Carolina school system.

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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

Electronic driving systems don’t always work, AAA tests show

Testing by AAA shows that electronic driver assist systems on the road today may not keep vehicles in their lanes or spot stationary objects in time to avoid a crash.

The tests brought a warning from the auto club that drivers shouldn't think that the systems make their vehicles self-driving, and that they should always be ready to take control.

AAA also said that use of the word "pilot" by automakers in naming their systems can make some owners believe the vehicles can drive themselves.

"These systems are made as an aid to driving, they are not autonomous, despite all of the hype around vehicle autonomy," said Greg Brannon, AAA's director of automotive engineering. "Clearly having 'pilot' in the name may imply a level of unaided driving, which is not correct for the current state of the development of these systems."

The test results released Thursday come after several highly publicized crashes involving Tesla vehicles that were operating on the company's system named "Autopilot." The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating some of the crashes, including a March fatality that involved a Model X that struck a freeway barrier near Mountain View, California.

The AAA findings are the second tests showing that the systems can't handle every situation in real-world driving, including some that are relatively common. In August, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released tests that showed similar problems to the AAA study.

The auto club tested the systems on four vehicles that had adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking. Vehicles tested included the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S Class, the 2018 Nissan Rogue, a 2017 Tesla Model S and a 2019 Volvo XC40. In addition to Tesla's Autopilot, Volvo calls its system "Pilot Assist," while Nissan's is named "ProPilot Assist."

Automakers generally say they tell drivers that their cars aren't fully self-driving and that they should always be alert and ready to intervene.

AAA says the vehicles drifted out of lanes and hugged lane markers, struggling with moderate traffic, curved roads and streets with busy intersections. Three of the four would have failed to avoid a crash when the vehicle ahead of them changed lanes and a simulated stopped vehicle was ahead.

"As a result we had to take evasive action," said Brannon.

Only the Tesla system brought the vehicle to a complete stop in all five track test runs, but driver intervention was needed for the others, the AAA report said.

The vehicles' owner's manuals say that spotting a stationary vehicle after a lead vehicle changes lanes is a design limitation for the systems, Brannon said. But he said researchers expected the vehicles to see stopped vehicles and react in time.

Automakers generally say that the systems are designed to supplement a human driver and they make it clear the vehicles don't drive themselves.

Nissan said its system name contains the word "assist," showing that it's designed to help the driver.

"Mercedes-Benz has always stressed that this technology is designed to assist the driver, not to encourage customers to ignore their responsibilities as drivers," the automaker said in a statement.

Tesla says that it reminds drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. "Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn't make the car impervious to all accidents," the company said in a statement earlier this year.

A message was left Thursday seeking comment from Volvo.

Brannon said that despite their shortcomings, the systems have great potential to save lives and stop crashes from happening.

"Anything that can serve as a backstop to a good driver is going to enhance the safety of the system, of the driver," he said.

Car impaled by wood post in crash, missing driver by inches

A BMW driver was “very lucky to walk away” this week after his car’s windshield was impaled by a fence post when he lost control on an icy road.

The wood post hit right between the front seats, missing the driver by inches, SWNS reports.

Police placed blame on the driver, saying that the Tuesday crash in South Yorkshire, U.K., was “a classic case of ambition outweighing ability.”

The driver suffered only minor injuries in the accident, but the sedan also lost its front bumper and had its airbags deploy as it came to rest in a roadside ditch.

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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

Traffic camera in Italian village catches 58,000 speeders in two weeks

A tiny Italian town may have discovered a new revenue stream after its traffic camera caught 58,568 speeders in just two weeks, but it would prefer if drivers just slowed down instead.

Sky News reports that the Northern Italian village of Acquetico, which has a population of just 120, trialed the camera in September as an effort to reduce speeds on the main two-lane road that passes through.

Mayor Allesandro Allesandri said that one in three vehicles were caught breaking the 31 mph speed limit, with the worst hitting 84 mph on the twisty mountain pass route, which is a popular spot for illegal motorcycle racing.

(Google Earth)

"We hope these speed gauges can be an effective deterrent to motorists and that they can benefit the citizens of Acquetico, because we don't want to make money with the fines, but they're necessary to protect people's safety.”

The town has yet to decide if it will bring the cameras back permanently.

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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.