June 12, 2023
A report filed with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles detailing the circumstances surrounding the collision suggested that it could not be avoided. But the negative headlines the story has generated will do little to silence mounting criticism of the continued expansion of autonomous vehicle (AV) operations in the city.
The report states: “On May 21, 2023 at 10.56 a.m. PT, a Waymo Autonomous Vehicle was in a collision involving a small dog on Toland Street at Toland Place. The Waymo AV was traveling southwest on Toland Street when a small dog ran into the street in front of the Waymo AV. The Waymo AV then made contact with the dog, which did not survive. At the time of the impact, the Waymo AV’s Level 4 ADS was engaged in autonomous mode, and a test driver was present (in the driver’s seating position). The Waymo AV sustained damage.”
Toland Street is a low-speed road to the west of the India Basin area, where coincidentally Waymo has a depot for its fleet of vehicles.
The self-driving taxi in question was one of Waymo’s converted Jaguar i-Pace models, which use a suite of sensors and custom mapping to deliver their automated functionality.
In comments reported by various media outlets after the release of the DMV report, Waymo acknowledged the incident and said an internal investigation was ongoing.
“The initial review confirmed that the system correctly identified the dog which ran out from behind a parked vehicle but was not able to avoid contact. We send our sincere condolences to the dog’s owner. The trust and safety of the communities we are in is the most important thing to us and we’re continuing to look into this on our end.”
It is believed the dog directly approached the Waymo AV at some speed, explaining the tragic outcome.
While there is an acceptance that there is no way of preventing unfortunate incidents like this – even with the benefits that automation is claimed to bring, due to the elimination of the potential for human error – the accident comes at a bad time for Waymo.
As it seeks to expand its commercial operations in San Francisco, dissent has been growing about the negative effect AVs are having on city traffic.
On June 29, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve applications from Waymo and rival Cruise to charge fares around the clock for driverless rides throughout the city, but this comes amid a backdrop of rising concern from several city bodies – including the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Mayor’s Office of Disability – over disruptions to traffic flow caused by the companies’ AVs.
As self-driving taxis become ever more prominent in the city, so too does the volume of complaints – and the death of a dog, however unfortunate, is likely to give the critics even more ammunition to highlight their objections.
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