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Autonomous Driving FAQ

Teens getting out of a Waymo car

When are autonomous vehicles coming?

Waymo’s autonomous vehicles began carrying members of the public in 2017 through its Trusted Tester Program (formerly called the Early Rider Program) in Metro Phoenix,  where Waymo now operates its Waymo One fully autonomous ride hailing service. Waymo One has been carrying early riders in autonomously driven vehicles without a specialist behind the wheel since the summer of 2019 and expanded that service to all public riders in October 2020. In 2021, Waymo launched its Trusted Tester program in San Francisco. Waymo’s Trusted Tester program allows participants to request rides with its fleet that operates 24/7. Waymo’s Trusted Testers have played an important role in shaping the way it’s bringing autonomous driving technology into the world. 

Infographic for early rider program

These are just some of the next steps in a long journey. Waymo also expanded mapping and driving to additional cities, such as New York City and Los Angeles, opened offices in Pittsburgh and Oxford, opened a new closed-course testing facility in Ohio, ramped up its collaboration with the trucking industry through its autonomous delivery solution Waymo Viaand partnered with local delivery services. These collaborations are part of Waymo’s efforts to expand autonomous driving technology to new cities, sectors, and uses to better connect people and communities.

Enabling not disrupting

Waymo partnering and working with dozens of non-governmental organizations to explore and provide unique value for its Waymo One riders. Metro Phoenix's transit authority and Waymo launched a first-of-its-kind partnership to evaluate how autonomous driving technology can complement traditional public transit options. Waymo joined forces with Valley Metro for a pilot program to provide a subset of its paratransit service riders the option to instead hail a ride with Waymo One. For those who want to take the bus or light rail to work but live too far from the nearest station, this "first-mile, last-mile" service could drastically simplify the act of commuting.

What are the benefits of autonomous driving technology? Are autonomous vehicles good?

Unlike humans, autonomous driving technology is never tired, drunk, or distracted when it’s operating a vehicle, with the added ability to see in all directions at once. An array of sensors is constantly monitoring other road users, lights, and signals to react to changes in real time. The Waymo Driver is designed to be a cautious and defensive driver.

Autonomous driving technology has the potential to save lives and save the U.S. economy billions of dollars due to death and injury caused by traffic accidents, many of which are caused by preventable mistakes by human drivers like impaired driving. Furthermore, fully autonomous driving technology could benefit people with disabilities and those who cannot drive themselves as a safe new mobility option that allows humans to remain passengers. Fully autonomous driving could also help efficiently transport goods to the people who need them most. For example, Waymo partnered with local nonprofits in Phoenix and San Francisco to deliver goods during the pandemic. The charitable delivery program has since scaled to include partnerships with nonprofits in Dallas and Los Angeles.

Are autonomous vehicles safe?

All autonomous driving technologies are different, and each autonomous driving technology company is responsible for ensuring the safety of its vehicles through its own safety program. We can only speak to Waymo’s safety program and approach. Waymo considers safety from the ground up and incorporates safety at every system level, from design to testing and validation. Waymo’s safety framework is a multi-pronged approach that builds upon best practices from a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive, and defense.

Waymo has more than 20 million miles of on-road driving experience and has tested its vehicles in more than 10 states. Learn more about how Waymo’s technology is rigorously tested to help ensure it operates safely in cities like San Francisco.

Are autonomous vehicles legal?

Some states have passed laws that define and/or regulate autonomous vehicles and some have not. Waymo follows all applicable state laws and federal regulations for testing.

Are autonomous vehicles safer than humans?

In the U.S., there are about 40,000 road fatalities every year and human error - including choices like impaired driving, speeding, distracted driving, and more - plays a significant role.

In the early stages of its autonomous driving technology program, Google engineers set out to answer a unique question: could technology be developed to solve one of society’s biggest challenges by reducing the road fatalities/lives lost in traffic crashes every year?

In search of an answer, they grew the team and formed a braintrust of NASA engineers, safety experts from NHTSA, and specialists from defense and auto industries, among others. Together, they began to design fully autonomous driving technology that could follow road rules, never drive drunk or distracted, remain constantly vigilant, and respect other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

To live up to its mission, Waymo is pursuing fully autonomous driving technology that performs all the dynamic tasks of driving. Waymo believes that if it can create the World’s Most Experienced Driver™, it can reduce the number of lives lost on our roads every day.

How do autonomous vehicles work?

The Waymo Driver is designed to be a cautious and defensive driver with more experience than any human on the road. With more than 20 million miles of experience driving on public roads and more than 20 billion miles in simulation, the Waymo Driver has the equivalent experience of more than a thousand years of driving experience shared across Waymo’s entire fleet. Waymo’s autonomous driving system, the Waymo Driver, doesn’t just detect the presence of other road users like other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists; it actually is able to differentiate them, understands how they are likely to behave, and anticipate how that could affect how the Waymo Driver navigates the world around it.

Waymo’s multi-layered sensor suite—including cameras, radar, and LiDAR—works together seamlessly to paint a detailed 3D picture of the world, showing pedestrians, cyclists, other vehicles, traffic lights, construction cones, and other road features. It can see 360 degrees in full daytime and at night, process and understand different colors, and hear sirens in the vicinity. Learn more about how Waymo’s autonomous driving technology works.