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Feds Investigate Waymo Robotaxis After 22 Reported Incidents

Waymo's automated driving system is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after 22 reported incidents, including 17 crashes, involving the driverless technology.

(TNS) — Waymo's automated driving system is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after 22 incidents, including 17 crashes, involving the driverless technology.

The investigation, which was opened Monday by the agency, will focus on the automated driving system's performance in detecting and responding to traffic control devices, such as traffic signals, as well as its performance when attempting to avoid collisions with stationary objects, non-stationary objects and vehicles, according to documents posted on the agency's website.

"The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has received reports of 22 incidents involving Waymo vehicles equipped with Waymo's 5th generation automated driving system (ADS) wherein the ADS-equipped vehicle was the sole vehicle operated during a collision or wherein the ADS- equipped vehicle exhibited driving behavior that potentially violated traffic safety laws," the NHTSA said.

The agency said the reports included incidents where Waymo robotaxis crashed into stationary and semi-stationary objects, such as gates, chains, and parked vehicles. The agency added that it identified other incidents such as Waymo robotaxis driving in opposing lanes with oncoming traffic and entering construction zones.

"Based on initial evaluation of these incidents, NHTSA understands that the Waymo ADS was either engaged throughout the incident or, in certain cases when supervised by an in-vehicle test driver, the ADS disengaged in the moments just before an incident occurred," the NHTSA said.

When reached by the Chronicle Tuesday night, a Waymo spokesperson said "at Waymo we currently serve over 50 thousand weekly trips for our riders in some of the most challenging and complex environments. We are proud of our performance and safety record over tens of millions of autonomous miles driven, as well as our demonstrated commitment to safety transparency. NHTSA plays a very important role in road safety and we will continue to work with them as part of our mission to become the world's most trusted driver."

The investigation comes just two months after California regulators allowed Waymo to expand across the Bay Area and into Los Angeles. Recently, the robotaxi company reported a jump in ride-hailing activity since the start of this year. Waymo dominates the robotaxi market in San Francisco after its top competitor, Cruise, was suspended from operating in the city. The suspension, last October, came after Cruise withheld footage of one of its robotaxis running over a woman and trapping her underneath the vehicle, which then led to the company ceasing all driverless operations.

The NHTSA also opened an investigation into Amazon's driverless taxi program on May 10 after two of its test cars stopped suddenly and were rear-ended by motorcyclists last month. One of the collisions occurred in San Francisco.

© 2024 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.