The very human challenge of safe driving

By John Krafcik, CEO

At Waymo, our safety culture is core to everything we do. We have carefully developed our testing program in the past decade and over 10 million miles. Every day, our vehicles are testing in our private test facility and on city streets, and it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of our vehicles — for our test drivers, our passengers, and other road users.

Recently, one of our vehicles was involved in a manual collision that injured a motorcyclist. While driving on El Camino Real in Mountain View, our test driver took control of the vehicle after seeing a passenger car to the left abruptly move towards our vehicle’s lane. Our driver responded by quickly moving the vehicle into the right lane. Unfortunately, our driver did not see that a motorcyclist had just moved from behind our vehicle into the right lane to pass us. As a result, our vehicle’s rear right bumper came into contact with the motorcycle.

Testing on public roads is vital to the safe development of self-driving technology, and we’re sorry that a member of the community was injured in a collision with one of our cars. We recognize the impact this can have on community trust. We hold ourselves to the highest standard, and we are always working to improve and refine our testing program.

As professional vehicle operators, our test drivers undergo rigorous training that includes defensive driving courses, including guidance on responding to fast-moving scenarios on the road. However, some dynamic situations still challenge human drivers. People are often called upon to make split second decisions with insufficient context. In this case, our test driver reacted quickly to avoid what he thought would be a collision, but his response contributed to another.

Incidents like this are what motivate all of us at Waymo to work diligently and safely to bring our technology to roads, because this is the type of situation self-driving vehicles can prevent. We designed our technology to see 360 degrees in every direction, at all times. This constant, vigilant monitoring of the car’s surroundings informs our technology’s driving decisions and can lead to safer outcomes.

Our review of this incident confirmed that our technology would have avoided the collision by taking a safer course of action. While our test driver’s focus was on the car ahead, our self-driving system was simultaneously tracking the position, direction and speed of every object around it. Crucially, our technology correctly anticipated and predicted the future behavior of both the merging vehicle and the motorcyclist. Our simulation shows the self-driving system would have responded to the passenger car by reducing our vehicle’s speed, and nudging slightly in our own lane, avoiding a collision.

Waymo was founded with the goal to improve road safety, and our mission informs what we do every day. As CEO, I commit that we will continue to always do our best, every day, to earn and keep the trust of the communities that we drive in.