A motorcyclist was injured in an accident caused by a self-driving car on October 19. But the company that made the car, Waymo, says the accident was the fault of the back-up driver who was in the car.
Waymo, the autonomous car subsidiary of Google, won approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles just a few days later to test self-driving cars on public roads without a back-up driver. They are the first company in California to be able to do so. Although they have not yet begun testing in California, they have been testing autonomous vehicles without human back-up drivers for about a year in Arizona.
It is of paramount importance for Waymo, as it is for all companies trying to develop self-driving cars, to ensure a public image of safety for those riding in the vehicles as well as anyone around them, such as passengers of other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Studies have shown that people are much less accepting of technology-caused accidents instead of human-caused ones and there are critics who believe the self-driving vehicle technology is being rushed into the public too soon.
The motorcycle collision occurred near Waymo’s Mountain View headquarters on El Camino Real. Waymo’s white Chrysler Pacifica minivan was in the middle of three lanes when the back-up driver took control of the vehicle “out of an abundance of caution” and began changing into the right lane. The motorcycle, which was trying to overtake the minivan in the right lane collided into the right rear bumper.
After each “disengagement’ incident, or when the back-up driver takes control of the car, Waymo software performs a simulation of how the car would have performed had it remained in self-driving mode. In this case, the simulation showed the car slowing down to avoid another car that was merging in from the left, avoiding a crash with both the motorcycle and the second car.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik explained how humans sometimes make split-second decisions that can lead to mistakes on the road, while the self-driving vehicles have a 360-degree view of their environment, which leads to better decision making by the technology.
“Our self-driving system was simultaneously tracking the position, direction and speed of every object around it,” Krafcik wrote. “Crucially, our technology correctly anticipated and predicted the future behavior of both the merging vehicle and the motorcyclist.”
While companies promoting self-driving cars claim they are trying to decrease the amount of deaths from motor vehicle accidents in the U.S., well-publicized accidents involving Tesla, Uber, and now Waymo, show that there is a long way to go for this technology and there could be more deaths involved as the technology continues to be tested.