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Autonomous vehicle company Waymo releases report on trials in Phoenix

Despite dozens of collisions and near-misses, the company maintains that its technology could save thousands of lives

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Photo (c) Andrei Stanescu - Getty Images
Waymo -- the autonomous driving technology development company that’s a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google -- has released its first round safety numbers for its operations in Phoenix, Arizona.

Overall, the company seemed pleased with the results and feeling good about the future of driverless vehicles.

The scorecard shows that company vehicles were involved in 18 accidents and 29 near-miss collisions during all of 2019 and through the first nine months of 2020.

In Reuters’ shakeout of the data, Waymo vehicles in Phoenix were involved in minor incidents once out of every 339,000 miles driven, adding that an additional 29 incidents were avoided with the intervention of a safety driver. 

Applying the metrics to a real-life scenario, Waymo equated the number of miles traveled by its vehicles represents over 500 years of driving for the average licensed U.S. driver.

The company couched the majority of incidents into the category of “typically unreported minor collision or contact,” but admitted that there were eight incidents it considered “most severe or potentially severe” where airbags were deployed. 

Good news or bad news?

Whether Waymo considers those results a glass half-full or a glass half-empty, it didn’t say. But Phoenix-area residents have been rather vocal about the 300+ vehicles operating driving around the Phoenix metro, calling them a hazard

Undaunted, the company remains confident about the technology saying it believes that it could prevent thousands of lives from being lost to traffic crashes every year. The Waymo team defended its extensive efforts, writing, “The more miles we travel on public roads, the more opportunities to monitor and assess the performance of software.”

“We take our responsibilities to the communities we serve seriously. Now that we’ve opened up our fully autonomous ride-hailing service to the public, we’re also sharing in detail the safety framework that guides our progress.”

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