Police: Waymo Crash in Arizona Is Other Driver’s Fault

Another crash involving an autonomous vehicle in Arizona is raising more additional questions about testing this type of technology on public roads, although in this case, it appears the other driver is at fault.

The latest incident happened Friday and involved a self-driving Waymo Pacifica minivan, although no serious injuries were reported.

The accident occurred on the afternoon of May 4 in the city of Chandler, which is located southeast of Phoenix, where Waymo has been testing self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans for some time.

A Honda sedan traveling on Chandler Boulevard had to swerve to avoid striking another vehicle, and as the Honda swerved, it continued into the lane of the Waymo Pacifica, which was being driven manually at the time, according to the police report.

Waymo released a six-second video of the crash from the Pacifica’s dashcam showing the Honda suddenly crossing the center of the road and swerving into the minivan’s path.

Local police, as well as Waymo, have now confirmed there was an operator actively behind the wheel at the time of the crash. The police had originally announced that the Pacifica was in autonomous mode, which lead to some initial confusion when the crash first happened.

Local news reported that the Honda involved in the crash had actually run a red light.

Chandler police detective Seth Tyler told The Arizona Republic the Honda was nearly 200 feet behind the intersection when the light turned red.

When the accident first occurred, there was some confusion as to whether or not the Waymo vehicle had been in autonomous mode. Tyler said the Pacifica operator originally told police the vehicle was operating in autonomous mode.

Tyler also noted the operator of the Honda, who ran the red light, told officers on the scene a different story, which then led to a series of conflicting stories. Waymo representatives then told police that the driver had been in control.

“I don’t have an answer why the Waymo driver said this. Perception can affect what we think we saw or did, especially in very quick and dynamic events such as vehicle collisions,” Tyler said in an interview with Jalopnik. “This crash also illustrates the dangers of red light runners.”

The incident follows the March crash of a self-driving Uber vehicle, which fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., which forced the company to halt tests of self-driving cars in all cities.

Although several companies stopped testing autonomous vehicles following that accident, Waymo, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet, vowed to continue.

Immediately following the fatal Uber accident, consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog called for a nationwide moratorium on autonomous vehicle testing.

Incidentally, that accident follows the release of a letter from US senators voicing their opposition to a bill that would clear hurdles to automakers to bring thousands of autonomous vehicles on the road.

Meanwhile, companies such as Nvidia are looking to speed up their virtual testing, betting on billions of miles of testing to occur in simulation, not on actual roads.

Software giant Microsoft is also betting big on simulation. The team behind the company’s Project Road Runner is using photo-realistic simulation and deep learning to train autonomous driving algorithms, then gathers data and trains AI platforms through real-world simulation.


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