June 16, 2024

Just a little over a week after U.S. auto-safety regulators began investigating Google’s Waymo, several additional incidents have surfaced in which the self-driving “robotaxis” may have violated traffic-safety laws or caused an collision.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Thursday sent Waymo, which is owned by Google-parent Alphabet, a letter stating it had found nine incidents that were previously unknown. When the agency opened its probe on May 14, it had already been notified of 22 reports involving Waymo’s autonomous cars, including 17 collisions.

The NHTSA said that although it was not aware of any injuries, “several of the incidents involved collisions with clearly visible objects that a competent driver would be expected to avoid.” Some incidents occurred near other drivers and pedestrians, the agency added.

The NHTSA’s investigation will focus on assessing any common issues in the reported incidents. It will also “evaluate the ADS’s performance in detecting and responding to traffic control devices and in avoiding collisions with stationary and semi-stationary objects and vehicles,” it said in a statement.

In total, 444 Waymo vehicles are included in the scope of the NHTSA’s inquiry.

The NHTSA refers to 20 of the incidents in the letter by citing reports filed concerning Waymo’s cars, while providing links to recordings online of another 11. One such video shows a Waymo vehicle in Phoenix, Arizona, suddenly cancelling a turn and driving in the opposite direction, while another shows a Waymo car driving into a construction area with workers present.

The auto-safety regulator requested a series of information from the company, including explanations of why Waymo’s automated driving system (ADS) behaved as it did in each scenario. The regulator also requested recordings leading up to and after the incidents. If Waymo fails to respond to the NHTSA by June 11, it could face civil penalties of up to $27,168 per violation per day at a maximum of more than $135 million.

Waymo earlier this month told Quartz that the company is proud of its “demonstrated commitment to safety transparency,” performance, and safety record. “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,” a company spokesperson added.

The NHTSA’s probe is currently a preliminary evaluation, the first stage before the agency could demand a recall. In February, Waymo recalled its 444-vehicle fleet after two minor collisions in Arizona.

Besides its inquires into Waymo, the NHTSA is investigating three other driver assistance systems.

Ford Motor Co.’s BlueCruise is being investigated after two fatal incidents earlier this year. Amazon-owned Zoox is being probed after two incidents in which its vehicles suddenly braked, causing rear-end collisions and minor injuries.

And Tesla’s Autopilot — which has been the subject of more than 50 special crash investigations — is being probed by regulators over the company’s December recall of more than 2 million vehicles. Tesla has been given a July 1 deadline to respond to questions posed by the NHTSA regarding the recall and its remedy for the software issues that caused it.

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