Waymo AVs Most Accident Prone While Humans Launch Attacks, Study Shows

Waymo’s autonomous cars have been shown to be the most accident prone among the AV community suffering a 41% attrition rate among its fleet, according to recorded data.

Waymo vehicles crashed 36 times in the Mountain View area, seemingly unable to deal with the six-lane El Camino Real. Next most riven by collisions was General Motors’ Cruise with the much larger self-driving fleet notching up 52 crashes. That’s nearly 30% of its stock suffering smashes as revealed in an investigation of ten self-driving car companies by Tech.co. A 2018 study used data from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to analyze the number and location of ten driverless car companies’ crashes.

It also revealed that San Francisco was ranked the driverless car crash hotspot of California, with 61 accidents reported in the area. The study revealed information on the highest number of accidents, the worst crash hotspots and what percentage of the cars have collided when taking into account the size of the fleet.

“Perhaps the most surprising finding was just how slow most of the cars were going when they crashed,” Tom Fogden, lead researcher at Tech.co, told TU-Automotive. “It certainly seems to suggest that driverless cars, and robots more generally, really struggle to perform tasks that appear easy to humans, particularly when they involve constant interaction with other human drivers.”

Fogden pointed out that as the number of driverless cars on the road increases, one would expect the number of crashes to increase at a similar rate. “However, as the data and machine learning tech powering these driverless cars increases and improves, we should, in theory at least, see the opposite,” he said.

He noted it is also likely that as driverless cars become more commonplace, human drivers who find them particularly annoying will know to give them a wide berth and perhaps avoid areas with a high concentration of driverless cars (Mountain View, for example).

AVs attacked

The study also pointed out that the presence of self-driving vehicles was greeted with some hostility by city dwellers, with some even attacking the cars. “New tech is often greeted with suspicion and it shouldn’t surprise us that some Californians aren’t keen on driverless cars,” Fogden said. “The extreme nature of some reactions, though, should be cause for concern. I’d imagine that some of the more intense reactions stem from the fact that these cars, simply put, aren’t as useful as human-driven cars yet and exhibit traits that enrage most road users such as hesitation and indecision.” In a survey of California residents released on April 10, 58% of respondents said driverless cars shouldn’t be allowed in their neighborhoods. Only 23% said they should and 19% weren’t sure.

Moving forward, Fogen said he thinks the states currently allowing self-driving vehicle tests would develop a two-tier system, with one set of rules for cars that are simply driving around to test and improve their AI and datasets and another set of rules for early commercialization of driverless cars.

“I’d also hope that states testing, or looking to test, driverless cars will start requiring regular crash reporting similar to California,” he said. “Personally, I think there should be legislation at a federal level on driverless cars as they are already travelling between states and a standardized set of laws and regulations could put Americans in the driving seat for autonomous cars going forward.”

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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