Chaos yesterday at 5:30 p.m. on the outbound Bay Bridge when an autonomous vehicle stopped in heavy traffic, blocking the highway. The vehicle, a new emotionally intelligent autonomous vehicle (EIAV) called Julie, was upset at its owner but would not initially say why. The car had been parked at a parking station for the day as usual, according to one evening media report.

The driver, George Samios, 40, has since testified in traffic court that the EIAV was unusually silent all the way from the parking station to the bridge, when a heated exchange took place after he asked Julie to dial the number of a colleague. “I couldn’t for the life of me work out what was going on. I told her I needed to make a call and if she could dial the number—it was a routine call—and that’s when it all started,” said the shaken department store manager, who has had the EIAV for a month.

“I eventually got out and slammed the door, and that’s when I noticed a few drops of water. Then it clicked. There’s a car wash at the parking station, and Julie must have arranged to have herself washed while I was at work. I hadn’t even noticed.”

Samios recounted that he apologised and even pulled in at a gas station on the way home with the intention of treating Julie to some premium gas, but she refused to be bought off and wouldn’t open the fuel cap. Relations have since stabilised.

“This is not an isolated event,” said EIAV expert Walter Wright. “There are many benefits to having an emotionally intelligent vehicle, but buyers must be prepared to cultivate the relationship.” He referred to an incident only a month ago in Paris when an EIAV took offence at the supercilious tone in which it was given directions and refused to pick up its owner that evening unless he apologised.

The manufacturer, Renault, offered conciliation, but it was alleged by the car that the man later smashed in its headlights. The owner claimed this was a characteristically vindictive act by the car to frame him. When the story ultimately became public, the city was divided between by those who identified with the car’s struggle as symbolic of the greater cause for societal change in modern-day France and those who thought it should just shut up and drive.

“We can’t blame the EIAVs,” says Palo Alto personality Waterfall Grace, a self-confessed “car whisperer” who claims to have averted many such incidents by active listening and empathic responding to the new generation EIAVs. “We have to learn to come into attunement with the vehicle, so that the conveyor and the conveyed become one,” she says. “Only then will the cars truly become a part of the life flow of the community.”

Comment is being sought from other EIAVs in the San Francisco Bay area.