NHTSA Expands Probe Into Waymo's Self-Driving Vehicles

Chris Teague
by Chris Teague

No matter what you think of them, autonomous vehicles will bring a range of opportunities for drivers and public infrastructure. That said, one of the most critical aspects of AVs becoming a part of everyday life is public trust, and the major players in today’s AV development race have struggled to earn and keep people’s confidence. Last year, GM’s Cruise operations shut down after high-profile accidents raised serious questions, and now, it’s Waymo’s turn under the microscope.

The NHTSA said it recently learned of nine new incidents that give it concerns about Waymo’s autonomous vehicle operations. The government body opened an investigation earlier this year after receiving reports of Waymo’s vehicles driving erratically, exhibiting “unexpected behavior,” and being involved in 17 crashes.

NHTSA officials said their investigation covered “collisions with clearly visible objects that a competent driver would be expected to avoid.” Vehicles reportedly ran into objects like parked vehicles and gates and have been known to sidestep traffic safety rules. If the NHTSA finds serious safety risks, the investigation could lead to a recall.

I’m not wholeheartedly against autonomous vehicles, and you shouldn't be either. That said, this story only adds to our doubts about their implementation. It should also be a warning to anyone who believes their current vehicle’s driver-assistance features offer anything more than Level 2 automation, which is hands-free driving with a human ready to take control at any time.

Even if Waymo, Cruise, and others survive these investigations and challenges relatively unscathed, the use case for autonomous vehicles is extremely limited, and the companies' years of intensive research will continue for the foreseeable future. So, while AI and automation might come for many of our jobs, they won’t be relied upon to drive our cars, at least consistently, for some time to come.

[Images: Phil Pasquini and Around the World Photos via Shutterstock]

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Chris Teague
Chris Teague

Chris grew up in, under, and around cars, but took the long way around to becoming an automotive writer. After a career in technology consulting and a trip through business school, Chris began writing about the automotive industry as a way to reconnect with his passion and get behind the wheel of a new car every week. He focuses on taking complex industry stories and making them digestible by any reader. Just don’t expect him to stay away from high-mileage Porsches.

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