Waymo’s first million driverless miles

Waymo cars have now driven 1 million miles with no human behind the wheel.

Waymo posted a blog post about that in February, focused on Waymo’s safety record during those first million miles. That post links to a paper with many more details.

During those first million miles, Waymo vehicles were involved in 20 “contact” events with other vehicles or with objects. None of those events resulted in an injury to a human. Most of them were very minor (such as a human-driven car backing into a Waymo car that was parked to pick up a passenger, or a portable plastic sign stand being blown by wind into the side of a Waymo car).

Two of the events met the criteria for being included in the NHTSA’s “Crash Investigation Sampling System” (CISS) database of collisions: one in which a human who was looking at their cell phone rear-ended a Waymo vehicle that was stopping for a red light; and one in which a human driver cut in front of a Waymo vehicle and immediately braked, and the Waymo vehicle ran into the human-driven vehicle.

More generally, “Every vehicle-to-vehicle event involved one or more road rule violation[s] and/or dangerous behaviors on the part of the human drivers in the other vehicle.”

Neither the blog post nor the paper provides a direct comparison (that I saw) of serious-collision rates for human-driven vs Waymo-driven vehicles. I’m guessing that that’s because the human-driver collision rates that I’m seeing elsewhere are expressed in terms of things like injuries-per-100 million-miles-driven. As the paper more or less notes, if you’re looking at very rare events, then you need a lot of data to come to statistically relevant conclusions.

But even so, no injuries in a million miles of driving (roughly equivalent to 80 years of an average American human driving) seems like a good start.

I know that many of you continue to be very skeptical about Waymo, and about autonomous vehicles in general. And certainly there’s a lot to be wary about.

But fwiw, my position continues to be that (1) there’s huge potential here for saving lives, at such point as autonomous vehicles are even a little better at driving than humans are; and (2) Waymo is doing a significantly better job than any of the other autonomous-vehicle companies, in a variety of ways.

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