Jake Gloudemans

New analysis of driverless car safety

September 4, 2023 at 2:20 PM

Tim Lee has an excellent new post examining the track record of Waymo and Cruise, both of which were recently approved for fared driverless rides across San Francisco.

To sum up, Waymo’s driverless fleet has experienced:

  • 17 low-speed collisions where another vehicle hit a stationary Waymo
  • 9 collisions where another vehicle rear-ended a Waymo
  • 2 collisions where a Waymo got sideswiped by another vehicle
  • 2 collisions where a Waymo got cut off and wasn’t able to brake quickly enough
  • 2 low-speed collisions with stationary vehicles
  • 7 low-speed collisions with inanimate objects like shopping carts and potholes

There are two things to notice about this list. First, other vehicles ran into Waymos 28 times, compared to just four times a Waymo ran into another vehicle (and Waymo says its vehicle got cut off in two of these cases). Second, Waymo was only involved in three or four “serious” crashes, and none of them appear to have been Waymo’s fault.

So far, Waymo’s vehicles appear to be safer than Cruise’s (Waymo has been around a few years longer, so not necessarily surprising here), and Waymo so far seems to be safer than human drivers, while Cruise may be, but it’s less clear cut (at worst, they’re probably at least comparable). Recognizing and responding appropriately to unusual inanimate objects in the roadway seems to be the biggest challenge for both companies.

Also, the environment these vehicles have been driving in is above-average difficulty compared to the miles driven by most drivers:

Both Waymo and Cruise have their driverless cars avoid freeways, which tend to have fewer crashes per mile of driving. Both companies are active in San Francisco, which has more chaotic streets than most US cities.

The mainstream press coverage of the rollout for these companies (particularly Cruise) has been overwhelmingly negative, cherry-picking and misrepresenting the one or two worst incidents over millions of miles of driving, with no mention of how their records compare to the typical human driver.

I for one am looking forward to these coming to D.C. sometime soon!