Probe Into Alphabet’s Waymo Service Opened by NHTSA Over Self-Driving Vehicles’ ‘unexpected behavior’

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has initiated an investigation into the performance of Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving vehicles due to reports of unexpected driving behavior that may have violated traffic safety laws. This examination follows 22 incidents involving Waymo vehicles, including 17 collisions, prompting concerns about the vehicles’ compliance with traffic regulations. Some of these incidents involved the autonomous driving systems apparently disregarding traffic safety control devices, leading to crashes shortly thereafter.

Waymo, while not addressing the specific incidents, expressed pride in its safety record over millions of autonomous miles driven and reiterated its commitment to safety transparency. The company pledged to collaborate with NHTSA during the investigation.

This scrutiny by NHTSA is part of a broader trend, with previous investigations initiated into the performance of other self-driving vehicle entities such as General Motors Cruise and Amazon’s Zoox. Earlier this year, Waymo recalled 444 self-driving vehicles after two minor collisions in Arizona, citing a software error. NHTSA highlighted that all 22 incidents under review involved either self-driving crashes or instances of driving behavior potentially breaching traffic safety laws, including collisions with stationary objects and vehicles, as well as driving in opposing lanes and entering construction zones.

The investigation will focus on assessing the performance of Waymo’s 5th Generation automated driving system in the identified incidents and similar scenarios, aiming to identify any commonalities and evaluate the vehicles’ ability to detect and respond to traffic control devices, as well as avoid collisions. This investigation represents the preliminary stage before NHTSA could mandate a recall if it deems the vehicles to pose an unreasonable safety risk.

Despite these challenges, Waymo has expanded its autonomous ride-hailing services, offering free driverless robotaxi rides to select individuals in Los Angeles and beginning autonomous services for employees in Austin, Texas. This expansion underscores Waymo’s ambition to provide autonomous transportation solutions in diverse urban environments, despite the regulatory scrutiny it faces.


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