Automation

Police Need Training to Handle AVs Properly, Waymo Says

The self-driving car company says police will need guidance on how to interact with the rapidly emerging tech in the real world.

by Carolyn Said / October 18, 2018
Aug. 6, 2017 Mountain View/Ca/USA - Waymo self driving car cruising on a street, Silicon Valley Shutterstock

(TNS) —— What happens when a police officer pulls over a self-driving car? After all, there won’t be a driver to say, “Is anything wrong, officer?” and provide a driver’s license, insurance and registration documents.

The solution, according to the self-driving car company Waymo, is in educating law enforcement officials. On Wednesday, Waymo — a unit of Google parent company Alphabet — released a plan for how officers can interact with its cars.

The basic idea: Police, fire departments and other first responders can call a 24/7 telephone hotline to speak to Waymo representatives, giving them the car license plate and location. Officers — or passengers — can also press a “Live Help” button inside the car on the ceiling to reach Waymo reps.

Vehicle documents — owner information, registration and insurance — will be stored in containers affixed to the front sun visors on both the “driver” and passenger side.

Waymo said its cars can detect when they’re involved in a collision, and will stop and immediately notify its fleet response specialists, who will call 911 and dispatch a Waymo support team to the scene.

Its plans give guidance for officers on how to make sure the car doesn’t drive away (the cars will not self-drive if airbags have been deployed, a door is open, the gear is in park or the parking brake is applied), how to turn the cars off, how to open the trunk, how to disable electric power, and how to use tools such as Jaws of Life to extract passengers if necessary.

Once the cars are turned off, they can be towed like any conventional vehicle.

“Since our technology is new, part of that commitment means working closely with public safety officials and first responders so they understand how our vehicles work and can be prepared for any situation on the road including emergencies, collisions and other scenarios where there is no Waymo employee in the driverless car,” Waymo spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson said in a statement.

She said the company is the first to publish a plan for emergency responders to interact with its robot cars.

Waymo’s self-driving minivans have been involved in scattered fender-bender accidents, often when human-driven cars sideswipe or rear-end them.

One accident in June was different, however. In that case, a safety driver “inadvertently disengaged the system from autonomous mode into manual mode, but did not retain control of the vehicle, causing it to drift out of its lane and into the median,” the company said in a statement. No other vehicles were involved, and the driver was not injured.

The Information reported in October that the solo driver had dozed at the wheel. Waymo would not comment on that report’s accuracy, but reiterated that it has a “strong culture of safety” and is “constantly improving our best practices, including those for driver attentiveness.”

Waymo pioneered self-driving and now tests scores of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans in California and Arizona. In Arizona, it ditched backup drivers for some of its fleet a year ago. In California, it has applied for a permit to test cars without drivers, but meanwhile they operate with a person behind the wheel.

©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.