Waymo’s robotaxis are under investigation for crashes and traffic law violations

Federal safety investigators have opened a preliminary investigation into dozens of incidents involving Waymo’s driverless vehicles, including several “single-party” crashes and possible traffic law violations.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation is looking into 22 incidents in which Waymo’s robotaxis were “the sole vehicle operated during a collision” or “exhibited driving behavior that potentially violated traffic safety laws.”

These include “collisions with stationary and semi-stationary objects such as gates and chains, collisions with parked vehicles, and instances in which the ADS appeared to disobey traffic safety control devices.” NHTSA is also looking into reports of Waymo vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road or illegally entering construction sites.

Some of the incidents were reported by Waymo under NHTSA’s standing general order requiring companies to report collisions involving autonomous vehicles, while others were collected from public sources.

The investigation comes after several videos of Waymo vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road went viral in recent weeks. One video, shot in Tempe, Arizona, shows a driverless Waymo vehicle attempting a left turn, which was blocked by cars waiting at the light. The robotaxi seems to pause for a moment before turning into oncoming traffic. In another video, a Waymo car is filmed driving on the wrong side of the street while being swarmed by a pack of electric unicycle riders.

Waymo acknowledges that while its vehicles do occasionally get involved in minor traffic collisions, its technology is much better at preventing more serious incidents than human drivers. The company recently analyzed 7.13 million fully driverless miles in three cities — Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco — and compared the data to human driving benchmarks to determine whether its cars were involved in fewer injuring-causing and police-reported crashes.

“At Waymo we currently serve over 50 thousand weekly trips for our riders in some of the most challenging and complex environments,” Christopher Bonelli, a spokesperson for Waymo, said in a statement. “We are proud of our performance and safety record over tens of millions of autonomous miles driven, as well as our demonstrated commitment to safety transparency. NHTSA plays a very important role in road safety and we will continue to work with them as part of our mission to become the world’s most trusted driver.”

The investigation comes amid heightened scrutiny of driver-assist and autonomous vehicle technology by federal safety regulators, as companies struggle to prove to government watchdogs and the public that their vehicles are as safe as they claim. Concerns about the safety of driverless robotaxis have grown after several high-profile crashes, such as when a Waymo car crashed into a bicyclist earlier this year and a Cruise vehicle struck and dragged a pedestrian 20 feet in October of last year.

NHTSA has launched preliminary investigations into most major players in the AV space, including Tesla, GM’s Cruise, Ford, Zoox, and others.


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