Austin/ Transportation & Infrastructure
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Published on May 21, 2024
Federal Probes into Self-Driving Car Mishaps Puts Waymo and Zoox Under ScrutinySource: Grendelkhan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The roads are getting smarter, but maybe not safe enough yet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun to rigorously investigate two high-profile self-driving car companies, Waymo and Zoox, after a series of reported traffic mishaps and collisions. Both companies are now in the hot seat with federal regulators scrutinizing their autonomous vehicle technology.

According to an announcement by the NHTSA, Waymo's 5th generation automated driving system (ADS) is linked to 22 mishaps, including those that have caused the vehicles to bizarrely crash into inanimate objects like gates and parked cars. These incidents also include autos going rogue and breaking basic traffic rules, like driving on the wrong side of the road or barging into construction zones. To further complicate Waymo's predicament, KVUE's media partners at the Austin American-Statesman reported that the federal investigation was sparked on May 13, over issues that have unfolded in various cities across the U.S.

In a recent incident that caught the public eye, a Waymo vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, found itself trending on social media after veering into oncoming traffic. The local police have since issued a reminder that autonomous vehicles are not above the law and must adhere to all traffic regulations. In light of these events, Waymo has expressed their commitment to safety, asserting to FOX Business, "We are proud of our performance and safety record over tens of millions of autonomous miles driven, as well as our demonstrated commitment to safety transparency." Meanwhile, the investigation is set to focus on the ADS's competence in recognizing traffic control devices and avoiding unwanted kisses with stationary objects.

The troubles don't stop there. Zoox, owned by e-commerce giant Amazon, has also caught the NHTSA's eye after two occurrences where their self-driving Toyota Highlanders suddenly put on the brakes, leading to motorcyclists crashing into them. These episodes have prompted a probe into 500 Zoox vehicles, although a Zoox spokesperson has made it clear to FOX Business that the company is cooperating with the agency: "Transparency and collaboration with regulators is of the utmost importance, and we remain committed to working closely with NHTSA to answer their questions."

As these investigations unfold, it becomes more evident that while the prospect of handing over the wheel to technology is enticing, these machines have yet to prove they can consistently navigate the complexities of human roadway choreography without a hitch—or a crash.

Austin-Transportation & Infrastructure