US Investigates Alphabet’s Waymo After Self-Driving Incidents

Alphabet’s Waymo division is reportedly being investigated by US safety regulators after crashes involving its robotaxis.

Reuters reported that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a preliminary investigation into dozens of incidents involving Waymo’s driverless vehicles, which includes several “single-party” crashes and possible traffic law violations.

The NHTSA is already investigating rival robotaxi service providers GM’s Cruise and Amazon’s Zoox. It is also investigating Elon Musk’s Tesla over its Autopilot driver assistance program.

Image credit: Waymo

NHTSA investigation

The NHTSA investigation investigation into roughly 444 Waymo robotaxis comes after the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) received reports of 22 incidents, including 17 collisions, involving Waymo vehicles equipped with Waymo’s 5th generation automated driving system (ADS).

A filing states that ADS-equipped Waymo vehicles were the sole vehicle operated during a collision, where it exhibited “driving behaviour that potentially violated traffic safety laws.”

“Reports 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 in the filing also stated that some incidents identified included Waymo vehicles driving in opposing lanes with nearby oncoming traffic or entering construction zones.

Based on initial evaluation of these incidents, NHTSA understands that the Waymo ADS was either engaged throughout the incident or, in certain cases when supervised by an in-vehicle test driver, the ADS disengaged in the moments just before an incident occurred.

Therefore the ODI has opened a Preliminary Evaluation to investigate the Waymo 5th Generation ADS’s performance, as well as to more closely assess any commonalities in these incidents.

Waymo did not address the specific safety incidents Reuters reported, but said it was “proud of our performance and safety record over tens of millions of autonomous miles driven, as well as our demonstrated commitment to safety transparency.”

The company also said it will continue to work with NHTSA.

Waymo expansion

In February, Waymo had recalled 444 self-driving vehicles after two minor collisions in quick succession in Phoenix, Arizona.

The two Waymo vehicles made contact with a “pickup truck being towed backwards and at an angle relative to the towing vehicle” within minutes of each other last December.

Now Waymo is facing a preliminary NHTSA investigation, which is the first step before the agency could demand a recall if it believes the vehicles pose an unreasonable risk to safety.

Waymo said in March it was beginning to offer free driverless robotaxi services to select members of the public in Los Angeles.

Waymo that same month also began offering autonomous services for its employees in Austin, Texas, making it the fourth major autonomous ride-hailing city after San Francisco, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The company has also recently begun testing its driverless vehicles on American highways in preparation for passenger trips.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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