Waymo: we could have prevented Chandler fatals - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Waymo: we could have prevented Chandler fatals

March 25th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Waymo: we could have  prevented Chandler fatals

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Waymo claims it has data proving its autonomous-driving vehicles could have prevented most of Chandler’s fatal collisions over the last decade.

According to a study it released this month, Waymo said its researchers virtually reconstructed 72 deadly car crashes reported throughout Chandler since 2008 and conducted a simulation that inserted one of its vehicles into the scenarios.

In simulations where the Waymo car replaced the vehicle that initiated the accident, the study found Waymo technology was able to avoid a collision every time.

In scenarios where Waymo replaced the vehicle that was struck, 82 percent of the simulations avoided a collision and 10 percent resulted in an accident less severe than the actual one.

The remaining simulations had similar outcomes to the real events.

“These results demonstrate the potential of fully automated driving systems to improve traffic safety compared to the performance of the humans originally involved in the collisions,” the study states.

Although the study examined only Chandler accidents, Waymo’s findings could become a major contribution to the ongoing study of widespread autonomous technology on America’s roads. 

Waymo operates both driverless and driver-accompanied vehicles within a 50-mile radius of its downtown Chandler headquarters.

The study also should tamp down any remaining distrust of its technology – which three years ago prompted some people to toss rocks at the vehicles.

A 69-year-old Chandler man was arrested in 2018, for example, for pointing a gun at a Waymo vehicle because he “hated” them.

Waymo has repeatedly tried to assure the public that its vehicles are safe and its latest study buttresses that contention.

“This is the first time an autonomous technology company has shared its evaluation for how the system might perform in real-world fatal crash scenarios,” Waymo said in a release.

Waymo’s study reconstructed six different types of car accidents: head-on collisions, intersection, cyclists, pedestrians, front-to-rear, and single-vehicle crashes.

Intersection crashes were the most common type studied and a majority of simulations resulted in the Waymo car avoiding collision.

“Even when a human driver did something to initiate a crash, such as running a red light, the simulated Waymo driver avoided or mitigated the vast majority of these fatal crashes,” the company noted.

In a scenario where the Waymo car was driving straight through an intersection and another motorist made an illegal left turn, the autonomous vehicle avoided a crash 57 percent of the time.

The study found Waymo cars were least successful at mitigating front-to-rear crashes when they were hit from behind.   

But researchers believe the Waymo vehicle couldn’t have done much to avoid getting hit since it was sitting at a stop light in most of these simulations.

“In all of these scenarios, the Waymo driver behaved similarly to the original human driver,” researchers wrote.

Out of the 16 scenarios involving pedestrians getting struck by motorists, the Waymo car managed to successfully avoid a collision during the simulation.

In one of these simulations, the Waymo car even knew how to avoid a skateboarder who had secretly held onto the back of a moving vehicle.

“The Waymo driver avoided this scenario by not proceeding in the presence of the pedestrian,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers further examined how much mitigation Waymo’s cars had to deploy in order to avoid a collision during the simulations.

More than 60 percent of the simulations where a Waymo vehicle avoided getting hit occurred without any urgent actions like slamming on the brakes.

Other simulations were successful simply because the Waymo vehicle followed local laws by maintaining safe distances between other motorists.

“The simulated driving performance of the Waymo driver in this study suggests that mitigation is possible in many real-world collisions in response to human driving deviations and errors,” the study states.   

Waymo noted its simulations contain some level of uncertainty since it is difficult reconstructing collisions based on information extracted from police reports.

The study’s findings were further limited by the fact that cars manufactured 10 years ago did not have automatic brake systems like the newer cars today.

But the study’s authors seemed satisfied with their findings and believe their research is a pivotal step in legitimizing the value of autonomous vehicles.   

“Although future methodological improvements and sensitivity studies may serve to enhance the precision and accuracy of the safety benefit estimates,” the study concluded, “the simulated results of the current study show potential for (autonomous systems) to improve traffic safety outcomes.”