Increased Scrutiny on Waymo’s Self-Driving Vehicles

Waymo's self-driving vehicles are facing increased scrutiny.

The principal US auto-safety overseer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has widened its inquiry into Waymo’s self-driving vehicle arm of Alphabet Inc. This expansion follows a surge in incidents involving collisions and potential breaches of traffic regulations by Waymo’s vehicles.

Rising Incident Count and Concerns

The NHTSA’s Defects Investigation Office communicated to Waymo, revealing nine more incidents resembling those since the preliminary assessment started on May 13. Reports show Waymo vehicles in 17 collisions with barriers, chains, and stationary vehicles. Moreover, the bureau emphasized five instances where Waymo’s automated driving system seemed to violate traffic laws. These violations included crossing into opposing lanes amidst oncoming traffic.

Waymo’s recent incidents raise concerns about its automated driving system’s safety and adherence to traffic laws, Barron’s Print Edition said.

Regulatory Response and Disclosure

The NHTSA’s communique, dated May 23 but publicly released later, acknowledged Waymo’s disclosure of recent incidents. A standing directive from 2021 compels automakers to report any mishaps with automated driving systems. Regulators uncovered some incidents by scrutinizing publicly accessible data.

Safety Concerns and Response from Waymo

Expressing concern, the defects office emphasized that vehicles equipped with automated driving systems exhibiting such unexpected driving behaviors might heighten the risk of accidents, property damage, and bodily harm. However, Waymo did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Broader Regulatory Scrutiny

The intensification of scrutiny extends beyond Waymo, involving other major players in autonomous vehicles. Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot, Ford Motor Co.’s BlueCruise, and Inc.’s Zoox are under recent investigations. In October, NHTSA began probing potential flaws in General Motors Co.’s Cruise automated driving system. This came after a Cruise vehicle collided with and dragged a pedestrian, settling for over $8 million.

As concerns grow around the safety and regulatory compliance of self-driving technologies, these investigations underscore the need for rigorous oversight and accountability within the autonomous vehicle industry.

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