Waymo, Zoox Self-Driving Vehicles Under Investigation

Waymo investigation follows reports of 22 incidents involving vehicles fitted with the company’s automated driving system

Graham Hope

May 15, 2024

3 Min Read
A Waymo autonomous self-driving Jaguar taxi drives along Venice Beach on March 14, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Auto safety regulators have launched investigations into the performance of self-driving cars from both Waymo and Zoox.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) probes come at a time of intense scrutiny for the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry, with public confidence in the tech remaining worryingly low.

A document posted on the NHTSA website revealed that Waymo is now subject to an Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) following reports of 22 incidents involving vehicles fitted with the company’s automated driving system (ADS) “that potentially violated traffic safety laws.”

The filing explained: “Reports include collisions with stationary and semi-stationary objects such as gates and chains, collisions with parked vehicles and instances in which the ADS appeared to disobey traffic safety control devices. In certain incidents, a collision occurred shortly after the ADS exhibited unexpected behavior.”

Among the areas the NHTSA investigation will focus on is how well the ADS responds to traffic safety control devices and its ability to avoid collisions with stationary and semi-stationary vehicles and objects.

The incidents involving collisions were reported by Waymo; others, such as when one Waymo AV entered a construction zone, were identified from footage published online.

Related:AAA Survey Finds Drivers Don’t Trust Self-Driving Vehicles

Waymo, which is owned by Google parent Alphabet, has emerged as the leading operator of self-driving taxis in the U.S. following the problems that piled up for General Motors-owned Cruise in the aftermath of an accident involving one of its AVs in San Francisco in October last year.

Waymo has growing commercial operations in San Francisco and Phoenix, and is branching out into other cities, including Los Angeles and Austin.

The scale of its reach was underlined by a recent social media post which revealed that it is now serving more than 50,000 paid trips every week.

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The NHTSA probe is designated as a “preliminary evaluation,” which Waymo will assist with and should be concluded by the end of this year or early 2025.

News of the Waymo investigation came just three days after it emerged that the NHTSA is also looking into AVs operated by Zoox, which is Amazon’s self-driving subsidiary.

Another filing on the NHTSA website revealed that two incidents were being looked into.

On both occasions, a Toyota Highlander SUV fitted with Zoox’s ADS braked unexpectedly, causing it to be rear-ended by a motorcycle. Both incidents happened during daylight hours, and the vehicles were operating in autonomous mode at the time.

Related:Cruise Under DOJ Investigation Following Published Report on Self-Driving Taxi Accident

Again, the ODI is classified as a “preliminary evaluation.” It will seek to assess the Zoox ADS’ performance, including its “behavior in crosswalks around vulnerable road users and in other similar rear-end collision scenarios.”

Zoox is assisting with the investigation.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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