Our roads are not as safe as they could be. An epidemic of distracted driving, texting and driving, and drinking and driving continues unabated, resulting in thousands of deadly accidents. Fully self-driving technology has the potential to improve road safety and reduce human error, which is a factor in an estimated 94% of crashes.
To celebrate June as National Safety Month, let’s explore how safety is built into fully self-driving car technology. Here, we’ll take a look at a few of the ways Waymo’s fully self-driving vehicles are designed with safety built in to protect everyone on the road, from passengers to cyclists and other road users and even first responders.
It’s important to first note that not all self-driving technology is the same and each company is responsible for their own safety program. Waymo believes safety should be built into self-driving car design through an intentional and methodical approach that incorporates safety at every step, which Waymo calls “safety by design.” This specific approach was developed by a team of engineers, safety specialists, and automotive experts who are leaders in their field.
Here are the top five most important things to know about Waymo’s approach to safety.
The Waymo vehicle is designed to be a cautious and defensive driver
Driving is a dynamic task that requires any operator — human or technology — to make split-second decisions on the road.
To navigate different real-world scenarios on the road, fully self-driving technology must master different skills and behave like a safe driver. These skills are called the core competencies of driving. They involve abilities like being able to safely come to a complete stop as well as yielding to first responders and making an unprotected left turn.
Waymo builds on these core competencies when designing the full self-driving system, including creating foundational test scenarios that ensure the basic driving behaviors are intact before pushing a new software version to its fleet. The core competencies have helped Waymo confidently deploy a cautious, defensive, and safety-conscious driver with over 10 million miles of experience on the road.
On top of all this, the Waymo vehicle never drives drunk or distracted and never texts and drives.
Backups are included for every critical driving system
Fully self-driving technology is made up of several complex systems which all work together to create a complete driver. Those systems include braking, steering, power, collision avoidance, and positioning systems.
Waymo’s self-driving technology has redundant backup systems built in for every critical driving system to ensure the safety of the vehicle even if there is a fault or failure within one of the systems. These system redundancies ensure the Waymo vehicle still behaves safely and predictably during unexpected events.
Waymo vehicles are designed and tested to avoid common collision scenarios
Did you know that just four types of crashes account for 84% of all crashes in America? The top four crash scenarios include: rear-end collisions; turning at or crossing intersections; running off the road; and changing lanes. Waymo is continually testing how its vehicles can avoid crashes in these scenarios and thousands of others at its private test track and using its simulator. And, as Waymo incorporates lessons learned from this testing into improvements to the driving software, all of Waymo's vehicles benefit, since they’re controlled by the same, safe driver.
Passenger safety and comfort is built in
Waymo is building a driver, not a car, so self-driving technology is retrofitted onto a “regular” car — in this case a new Pacifica Hybrid minivan, which has a high record of safety as a base vehicle.
Waymo designed its fully self-driving technology with passengers — rather than drivers — in mind to provide a safe and comfortable experience. The result is a technology that allows passengers to stay passengers while keeping them informed about what’s around them, where they are, and where they are going.
Passengers can easily contact Waymo rider support at any point during their trip, indicate their destination, or direct the vehicle to pull over and come to a complete stop.
Waymo respects other road users’ safety
Built-in 3D maps allow Waymo vehicles to make driving decisions based on specific local laws, such as respecting bike lanes, and specific road topography. Waymo can compare real-time sensor inputs with these onboard maps to identify any changes in the roadway and inform other vehicles in the fleet.
Furthermore, the Waymo vehicle is constantly vigilant, monitoring what’s going on around it, up to nearly three football fields in all directions. It can see lights and hear sirens. It can identify and differentiate other road users such as cyclists, other drivers, pedestrians, and first responders and predict what they might do next in order to determine the safest course of action for everyone on the road.
Learn more about how self-driving technology is being developed to improve road safety and lead to a more connected world.
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