TechnologyUS investigates Waymo autonomous vehicles after reports of crashes or traffic violations

US investigates Waymo autonomous vehicles after reports of crashes or traffic violations

The US highway safety agency opened another investigation into automated driving systems, this time into crashes involving Waymo autonomous vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted documents on its website Tuesday morning detailing the opening of the case following 22 reports of Waymo vehicles that either crashed or did something that could have violated traffic rules.

In the last month, the agency has opened at least four investigations into vehicles that can either drive on their own or at least assume some driving functions, and appears to be more aggressive in regulating these devices.

In the case about Waymo, which was formerly Google’s autonomous vehicle division, the agency said it had reports of 17 crashes and five reports of possible traffic violations. No injuries were reported.

In the crashes, Waymo vehicles struck stationary objects such as doors, chains or parked vehicles. Some of the incidents occurred shortly after the Waymo driving system behaved unexpectedly near traffic control devices, according to the documents.

A message seeking comment was sent early Tuesday to the Mountain View, California, company that operates robotaxis without human drivers in Arizona and California.

The safety agency said it would investigate the 22 incidents involving Waymo’s fifth-generation driving system, as well as similar scenarios “to more accurately assess any common elements in these incidents.”

The agency (NHTSA) said it understands that Waymo’s self-driving system was activated in each of the incidents, or in some cases involving a test vehicle, a human driver disconnected the system just before that an accident would occur.

The investigation will study the operation of the system to detect and respond to traffic control devices and to avoid collisions with totally or partially immobile objects and vehicles, according to the document.

Since late April, NHTSA has opened investigations into crashes involving autonomous vehicles run by Amazon-owned Zoox, as well as driver-assist systems offered by Tesla and Ford.

The agency ordered in 2021 that all companies with autonomous vehicles or partially automated systems report all crashes to the government. The investigations are based largely on data reported by automakers due to that order.

NHTSA has questioned whether a patch released last year for Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist system was effective enough to make sure human drivers are paying attention. NHTSA said it has identified 467 Autopilot-related crashes, resulting in injuries to 54 people and 14 deaths.

In the Ford investigation, the agency is investigating two overnight highway crashes in which three people died.

Additionally, the agency has set standards for automatic braking systems that require rapid braking to avoid pedestrians and other vehicles.

Those rules were developed after other investigations into automatic braking systems from Tesla, Honda and Fisker because they can brake for no reason, increasing the risk of a crash.

In an interview in 2022, then-NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said the agency would increase controls on autonomous vehicles and the agency has taken more action in recent months. NHTSA has been without a Senate-approved administrator since Cliff left for the California Air Resources board in August 2022.

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