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Testing Crash Avoidance

Waymo car driving behind a biker

Crashes remain an urgent safety issue on U.S. roadways, accounting for nearly 40,000 fatalities every year. 

Waymo’s autonomous driving technology is designed and rigorously tested to avoid crashes and protect the safety of passengers and fellow road users. The company’s comprehensive approach to safety places an emphasis on mitigating and reducing risks in a wide range of scenarios that can occur on the road. Waymo provides regular updates on the details of its safety program, including in this 2021 Safety Report

Waymo has also released a unique scenario-based study showing how its technology, in simulation, avoids or mitigates the kinds of scenarios that led to fatal crashes by human drivers in real life.

4 scenarios account for 84% of crashes

In 2015, The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration published data showing the distribution of the most common pre-crash scenarios (PDF). For example, just four crash categories accounted for 84% of all crashes:

  • 29% of the vehicles were involved in rear-end crashes
  • 24% of the vehicles were turning or crossing at intersections
  • 19% of the vehicles ran off the edge of the road
  • 12% involved vehicles changing lanes

How Waymo tests its technology's ability to avoid collisions

Waymo uses the 37 pre-crash scenarios based on the almost 6 million police-reported light vehicle crashes that NHTSA recommends for testing as a starting place. Waymo tests situations in which other road users create potentially dangerous situations, such as:

  • Vehicles suddenly pulling out of driveways
  • Large vehicles cutting across target lanes
  • Motorcyclists weaving through traffic
  • Pedestrians jaywalking

Avoiding these kinds of crash scenarios is an important goal for Waymo’s testing program.

Waymo has completed thousands of crash avoidance tests at its private test track. Each of these tests recreates a distinct driving scenario and allows Waymo to analyze its technology's response. Waymo then uses its simulator to test these scenarios further and improve its overall software capabilities.

Independent analysis

Safety is the core of Waymo’s mission. When Waymo started to develop this technology more than a decade ago, it realized that just as it was inventing brand new, highly sophisticated technology, it would need to build its own safety program to match.

Waymo’s multi-layered approach to safety is influenced by a braintrust of NASA engineers, NHTSA safety experts, and specialists from defense and auto industries, among others. Together, they created a playbook for rigorous and comprehensive development and testing of this technology to evaluate safe performance.

Waymo has involved external experts to advise on safety-related aspects of its program and shared its views with federal and state regulators as well as organizations (e.g. SAE, VTTI, American Center for Mobility) interested in developing guidance and standards in this area.