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Your Top Self-Driving Safety Questions Answered

June 8, 2020

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Are self-driving cars safe?

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), nearly 40,000 people die annually in human-driven crashes, many of which involve drunk or distracted drivers. Human error is the cause of 94% of crashes. Fully self-driving technology has the potential to reduce these fatalities because it never drives drunk or distracted and can be programmed to drive courteously and obey traffic laws. NSC asserts that fully self-driving technology is among the latest in a long line of technological advancements that could improve road safety.

Waymo, a self-driving technology company, has a rigorous safety program that incorporates safety at every level, from initial development of its vehicles to design, testing, and deployment. Waymo’s vehicles have driven more than 15 billion miles in simulation. They are continually tested to improve how they respond to everything from vehicles unexpectedly cutting into traffic to pedestrians jaywalking. A braintrust of many engineers has contributed to building a technology that is designed to be the world's most experienced driver.

Will self-driving cars reduce accidents?

Fully self-driving cars have the potential to reduce human error on our roadways, which is the leading cause of crashes, according to the National Safety Council. Road users and drivers cause preventable crashes by speeding, drinking and driving, and texting while driving, among other behaviors. Fully self-driving vehicles, which do not get distracted or drunk, are designed to improve safety and have the potential to reduce the number of crashes and fatalities on our nation's roads.

Waymo uses the latest in road safety research and extensive analysis of human-driven vehicle data to inform its test coverage of significant driving scenarios, including the four categories that account for the majority of crashes: rear end collisions, vehicles turning or crossing at intersections, vehicles running off the road, and vehicles changing lanes.

Can self-driving cars prevent accidents?

Fully self-driving cars use a sophisticated suite of cameras and sensors that monitor the environment 360 degrees around the vehicle and are designed to respond to objects up to 500 meters away. They can also be designed to predict what other road users may do next and make the safest driving decision for all road users. Waymo, conducts extensive simulation and testing programs designed to ensure performance and reliability. For example, each car’s camera system undergoes more than 100 lab tests before a vehicle is put on the road.

Experts with the National Safety Council believe that we may be on the verge of a great leap in the evolution of car safety, moving from crash mitigation technology, such as seat belts and air bags, to technology that actually prevents crashes.

Kelly Nantel, vice president of communications and advocacy for NSC, said fully self-driving technology is key to this leap.

“Now, you’re starting to see the technology that prevents the crash from happening in the first place,” said Nantel. “We wouldn’t be working in this space if we didn’t believe that self-driving vehicles are the key to driving down fatalities in the future.”

Listen to an interview with Kelly Nantel about the evolution of road safety and how fully self-driving technology could enhance safety and help prevent crashes from happening in the first place.

Are self-driving cars safe for our cities?

Self-driving technology is constantly vigilant, able to see 360 degrees in every direction while operating. This allows cars to identify and differentiate other common city road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, and emergency vehicles. Fully self-driving cars can use the information they see to anticipate what other road users might do next and make the most-appropriate driving decision.

Waymo’s vehicles take things further by incorporating detailed area maps, including bike lanes and traffic laws, into the vehicles’ internal maps.

Every time a Waymo vehicle drives, it collects information about the roads. Engineers can then use that information to inform the rest of the fleet and continue to improve technology and safety measures.

Do self-driving cars speed?

Self-driving cars can be programmed to obey traffic laws, including speed limits, traffic lights, street signs, and more. This programming could prevent the vehicles from, for instance, going over a predetermined speed limit or turning right on a red light if that is not permitted.

According to the National Safety Council, speeding is a factor in a third of crashes. Representatives from NSC are working hard to enforce and lower speed limits and see self-driving vehicles as key to that strategy.

“It’s in this space that I think self-driving vehicles are absolutely a game changer,” said Kelly Nantel, vice president of communications and advocacy at NSC.

Will self-driving cars obey speed limits?

Self-driving cars can be programmed to obey speed limits. For example, Waymo’s vehicles operate based on highly detailed internal maps that incorporate the different features of the roads they travel on–including posted speed limits.