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Waymo presses ahead on driverless testing

Consumer watchdogs warn regulation falls short

With a new state permit in hand, the autonomous car company Waymo will soon be kicking off its training wheels -- i.e. its human drivers. The company's self-driving vehicles are now cleared to travel with no humans behind the wheel on the streets of Mountain View, Palo Alto and other nearby cities.

Waymo's new permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which the Voice obtained through a public records request, indicates the company is largely being allowed to set its own guidelines and protocols for driverless testing. The permit document, which appears to be authored entirely by Waymo, provides little insight as to how DMV regulators interpreted and scrutinized the company's driverless testing program.

Almost letter for letter, the permit granted by the DMV largely matches Waymo's application filed six months earlier in April, except for one major change. Originally, Waymo requested permission to test drive up to 59 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, but its final certified permit reduced that number down to 39. Exactly why that reduction was made remains a mystery -- DMV officials said it was Waymo's decision, and the company, a division of Google's parent company Alphabet, did not respond to questions submitted by the Voice.

DMV officials acknowledged that Waymo designed many facets of its driverless testing protocol, but they gave assurances that the company's proposal satisfied all the regulatory requirements. DMV regulators rigorously analyzed Waymo's application and pressed the company to clarify elements of its vehicles' operational design and interaction plan for law enforcement, said Martin Greenstein, DMV spokesman.

"A lot of this is going to be authored by Waymo," he said. "This a big step obviously for driverless testing, so we took time to thoroughly review the application. We're not going to issue a permit until they've met our requirements."

But while this marks a new milestone, consumer advocates are raising alarms that there are plenty of unanswered questions about the technology and the regulations underpinning self-driving cars. Many details regarding Waymo's system for human safety monitors and vehicle certification are skimmed over in the DMV permit, they note.

In some ways, human drivers face tougher scrutiny of their driving safety than Waymo's software-piloted vehicles, said John Simpson, an advocate with the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog. For years, Simpson's organization has raised skepticism about the promises of self-driving technology, warning the industry and regulators were racing ahead without adequate safeguards in place. A person seeking a driver's license has to undergo a written exam and a test behind the wheel. But in Waymo's case, Simpson alleges the DMV is largely trusting the company to vouch for its own safety.

"There's a fundamental problem with the DMV's approach here," Simpson said. "The industry is rushing way too fast beyond the safety of where we are."

In particular, Simpson singles out Waymo's proposed certification system approved by the DMV to test the safety and driving capability of its vehicles. It is not explained what this testing will entail. Under the permit, Waymo is being allowed to handle this certification internally without outside review -- a level of discretion the DMV wouldn't give human drivers, he points out.

Each Waymo vehicle is equipped with sensors and software technology that the company has been developing for nearly a decade. Under the DMV rules, Waymo is required to also have human monitors who keep an eye on the self-driving vehicles remotely from computer terminals. The company's permit calls for two separate teams who will continuously monitor the fleet and check on each vehicle's diagnostics and driving.

Simpson points out that Waymo's permit does not disclose how many vehicles each human monitor will be tracking simultaneously. The DMV regulations do not set a limit on this.

In its original application filed in April, Waymo said it would insure each of its vehicles for up to $10 million in personal injury claims. It is unclear if this coverage remains intact -- the final permit disclosed by the DMV has most information on insurance coverage redacted. At a minimum, self-driving car companies are required to cover each vehicle for $5 million in potential liability. While this is a higher standard than human drivers face, Simpson warns that insurance is still insufficient since a major multi-vehicle crash with injuries could quickly deplete that coverage.

Waymo is required to report any vehicle crashes involving self-driving cars to the DMV within 10 days. If safety problems with the technology emerge, the DMV has the authority to suspend or revoke Waymo's permit, Greenstein said. He said that would be unlikely -- Waymo has already test-driven its vehicles over millions of miles with humans on board, and safety hazards haven't popped up so far. In the vast majority of cases, crashes involving Waymo vehicles have been the fault of human drivers in other vehicles, he said.

According to California Secretary of State filings, Google and Waymo paid $62,000 to the Sacramento-based firm KP Public Affairs to lobby the DMV and other agencies while its application for driverless testing was under review. The exact nature of this lobbying activity is not clear from the public filings. Asked about this, Greenstein gave assurances that the DMV autonomous-vehicle team was never in contact with any lobbyists.

Dealing with police stops

Under the DMV rules, Waymo is required to set an interaction plan with law enforcement, basically laying out rules for how police or firefighters can stop or disable a self-driving vehicle in emergency situations. In that scenario, officials are being asked to call a 24-hour hotline (which was dead when the Voice called). Officers are asked to provide Waymo's support team with a self-driving car's company ID number and license plate number.

Waymo vehicles are reportedly able to detect police and emergency vehicles automatically, especially if they have their sirens or flashing lights turned on. If that happens, Waymo cars are programmed to pull over and stop at the first available spot.

If a self-driving car gets in an accident, it is designed to immediately stop and contact Waymo's response team. The company's responders may call 911 or send out its own support team, depending on the circumstances.

If for some reason a car's self-driving system goes haywire, then it can be disabled if emergency officials can open one of its doors, put the vehicle in park or set the emergency brake. The law enforcement interaction plan also contains instructions to completely shut down a vehicle by severing its electric power, but it is not clear when that would be necessary.

Waymo officials met briefly with the Mountain View Police Department last week, but the company is still expected to hold a training session to teach police officers how to engage self-driving vehicles. Once that is done, Waymo will be allowed to begin deploying its driverless cars.

Mountain View police officials are not planning any special restrictions or enforcement measures for Waymo vehicles at this time, said spokeswoman Katie Nelson.

"I can say that in our conversation with them, it is very clear that any testing conducted will be done with a very measured approach with plenty of training time so that (police officers) are ready and comfortable with the technology," Nelson said.

Waymo has announced a public forums to discuss its self-driving cars and its planned rollout. One is scheduled in Palo Alto for 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at the Cubberley Community Center's Room H-1, 4000 Middlefield Road. Another forum will be held in Mountain View for 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Historic Adobe Building at 157 Moffett Blvd.

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Mark Noack writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2018 at 4:15 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I see "to cover each vehicle for $5 million in potential liability. While this is a higher standard than human drivers face, Simpson warns that insurance is still insufficient since a major multi-vehicle crash with injuries could quickly deplete that coverage." Interesting that driverless cars have so much, while "California requires drivers to carry at least the following auto insurance coverages: Bodily Injury Liability Coverage: $15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident minimum; Property Damage Liability Coverage: $5,000 minimum; Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage*: $15,000 per person / $30,000 per accident minimum; Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage*: $3,500 minimum.
It looks to me, based on the concerns expressed in the article, California drivers are woefully under-insured, particularly in an injury/death scenario or multiple vehicles. Personally, I worry more about being in an accident with an under-insured human driver than with a $5M insured autonomous vehicle.


14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 23, 2018 at 5:52 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

So is there a number we can call to complain about Waymo violations? A working customer service system at involved municipalities and at Waymo (and the other driverless car companies) would seem to be the minimum required to test these cars on our already congested streets.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2018 at 6:12 pm

Posted by stanhutchings, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> It looks to me, based on the concerns expressed in the article, California drivers are woefully under-insured, particularly in an injury/death scenario or multiple vehicles.

Agreed. For airline accident fatalities, average payouts are much higher:

"'The highest average settlements are in the U.S. (estimated $4.5 million), several times greater than European averages, according to estimates by James Healy-Pratt, head of the aviation department at Stewarts Law in London. Meanwhile, average settlements in China (estimated $500,000), for example, indicate how settlements in Asia tend to be lower than those in Western nations.'"

Web Link

>> Personally, I worry more about being in an accident with an under-insured human driver than with a $5M insured autonomous vehicle.

Airlines have demonstrated remarkable safety. Has Waymo demonstrated the same level of safety?


1 person likes this
Posted by Paul Gomez
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2018 at 8:25 pm

I think it's way too early to ride inside a perfect self-driving car now. The automakers should really think about perfecting the safety features before selling these cars. I have just read an article at Web Link about legal side of these cars. Hope it helps anyone who seek for more information about these cars.


14 people like this
Posted by no way
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 24, 2018 at 9:55 pm

get these damn cars out of palo alto. they are nothing more than a nuisance. these things are dangerous. and, they are everywhere--like ants. we don't need these vehicles taking up valuable space and space. everyone else does tries to avoid getting anywhere close to these cars. no one is safe when they are around. this is someone's foolish whim. get them off the road and stop with this insanity. Put them in a disneyland ride--that is the only place they will work.


1 person likes this
Posted by @no way
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2018 at 10:46 pm

You're not going to be a happy camper in a few years when these things become the new Lyft. They're going to be everywhere.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2018 at 9:32 am

Posted by @no way, a resident of another community

>> You're not going to be a happy camper in a few years when these things become the new Lyft. They're going to be everywhere.

They should be forced to prove safety first.

"Show me."


16 people like this
Posted by A Waymo Test Driver
a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2018 at 12:35 pm

People don't like Waymos because Waymo-equipped vehicles & drivers follow the rules of the road. Waymos proceed with caution, do not go over the posted speed limit and do not give the middle finger to other drivers.

The large number of anti-Waymos only goes to show that over 95% of the operators behind the wheels of their standard cars are lousy, unsafe and reckless drivers.
Add the potential of driving under the influence into the mix as well.

Auto insurance companies fear the day Waymos become SOP for countless vehicles. Accidents will be fewer with less need for claims adjustments and personal injury representation.

If people weren't in such a hurry these days, they would appreciate the features and benefits of Waymo-designed automobile in slowing down the pace of life. No one's personal shopping and/or business is that important to where one must create road additional hazards.

As a Waymo driver, I love to manually tap the brakes just to watch the cars behind me slow down to the legal speed limits. It's almost like stringing a line of dominoes and watching them all fall down in gradual succession. Very entertaining to say the least.

While we do have manual over-ride functions, the auto system is just so much more relaxing and since we are roaming around aimlessly for test purposes, it really doesn't matter who we slow up as most are travelling too fast to begin with?

Now get the drift?




5 people like this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 25, 2018 at 7:06 pm

Alum is a registered user.

It's nice that Waymo vehicles are bound to the rules and proceed with caution... the worst thing in my opinion is that they can only go the posted speed limit. There are a number of roads in the area with speed limits that are rather low (ex Middlefield), and if traffic regularly flows 5-10mph above the speed limit it would be ideal (and probably safer) for the driverless cars to adjust.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 25, 2018 at 7:52 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Waymo may follow the letter of the law but they sure didn't program in common sense or common courtesy. They blocked our driveway when we'd already backed into the street and there was no other car behind them. The light was red so they couldn't go anywhere if they'd yielded.

Instead, the back seat passenger sat there 1 foot from our back bumper totally engrossed in his phone for the entire light cycle.


20 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 25, 2018 at 8:38 pm

It is absolutely not ideal nor safe to drive 5-10 mph over the speed limit on Middlefield, or any other road in town for that matter. Driving 35 mph in a 25 mph zone that is packed with residents, schools, bikers, students, and pedestrians is reckless driving and should be ticketed as such.


20 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 26, 2018 at 9:05 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

QUOTE: There are a number of roads in the area with speed limits that are rather low (ex Middlefield), and if traffic regularly flows 5-10mph above the speed limit it would be ideal (and probably safer) for the driverless cars to adjust.

QUOTE: It is absolutely not ideal nor safe to drive 5-10 mph over the speed limit on Middlefield, or any other road in town for that matter. Driving 35 mph in a 25 mph zone that is packed with residents, schools, bikers, students, and pedestrians is reckless driving and should be ticketed as such.


As per the CA/DMV 'Basic Speed Law'...it is illegal to drive faster than it is safe (given factors such as road and visibility conditions, traffic flow etc.). Thus driving too slow or too fast in certain situations can be considered dangerous. The only time it is actually illegal to exceed the speed limit is when the posted sign says 'Maximum Speed Limit'. I learned this in 'traffic school' years ago.

Going 5-10 mph over or under the speed limit in the absence of a 'maximum speed posting' is a variable to be determined by the officer issuing you a citation and the traffic court (in the event you wish to contest the ticket).

I once got pulled over for doing 85mph on 280 by the CHP & took the ticket to SM County court citing excellent visibility, dry road conditions & no other cars in sight + my vehicle was in top operating condition. Upon these considerations, the judge dismissed the case.



9 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 26, 2018 at 7:37 pm

It is not lawful, ethical, or safe to drive faster than the posted speed limit on any Palo Alto street. If you choose to violate the law then that's your business, but please spare us the phony justification. You are not helping traffic flow, you are not making streets safer, you are simply a scofflaw with no regard for the well-being of anyone else.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2018 at 5:55 am

Posted by Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School

>> It's nice that Waymo vehicles are bound to the rules and proceed with caution... the worst thing in my opinion is that they can only go the posted speed limit. There are a number of roads in the area with speed limits that are rather low (ex Middlefield), and if traffic regularly flows 5-10mph above the speed limit it would be ideal (and probably safer) for the driverless cars to adjust.

I applaud Waymo for observing the long-standing California State Law of many decades. Middlefield is -correctly- classified as a residential street, with houses with driveways, churches, schools, and local shopping along it.


Posted by R.Davis, a resident of Crescent Park

>> As per the CA/DMV 'Basic Speed Law'...it is illegal to drive faster than it is safe (given factors such as road and visibility conditions, traffic flow etc.). Thus driving too slow or too fast in certain situations can be considered dangerous.

When is it dangerous to drive 25 mph on Middlefield? I drive 25 mph on Middlefield all the time, and have done so for 40 years. Many times it has been in the presence of a police car. I've never been stopped for driving too slowly, and, in fact, other drivers also drive 25 mph when being following by the police. Apparently, including people who habitually speed. So, I guess nobody thinks 25 mph is unsafe, and, nobody thinks that if they get a ticket for speeding, and contest it, the judge will be sympathetic.

>> I once got pulled over for doing 85mph on 280 by the CHP & took the ticket to SM County court citing excellent visibility, dry road conditions & no other cars in sight + my vehicle was in top operating condition. Upon these considerations, the judge dismissed the case.

You got lucky, but, sure, back in 70's, many people used to drive 80 mph on I-5 and I-280 when the roads were empty and the CHP would let it go. The fact that you think the two cases are comparable is disturbing. Middlefield is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, I-280 is a super-wide freeway with sections where your Porsche could safely cruise at 130. These two situations are completely NOT comparable. But, your response is a good example of why autonomous vehicles could eventually be much safer than human drivers.


18 people like this
Posted by Agressives hate Waymo
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2018 at 6:06 am

The aggressive, "Out of my way" drivers haaaaaate Waymos.
That's why I love them. Have you ever seen one of these aggressives tailgating a Waymo? It's like watching someone argue with a mannequin. LOL
Onward to safer streets!


13 people like this
Posted by Be Rude to Waymo
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 27, 2018 at 7:49 am

>The aggressive, "Out of my way" drivers haaaaaate Waymos.
That's why I love them. Have you ever seen one of these aggressives tailgating a Waymo? It's like watching someone argue with a mannequin. LOL

Tailgating is not how you get a Waymo to speed up...besides tailgating creates a potential rear-ender.

By hitting your high-beams excessively and/or honking, some Waymo operators will switch back to 'manual mode' and speed up albeit slightly. Not all of them.

It's the Waymo 'auto mode' that aggravates many drivers. I actually saw a Waymo doing about 45 in a 35 and I assume the driver was actually operating the vehicle. Most Waymo operators seem to rely on the 'auto mode'.

Mountain View is Waymo Land and 95% of the regular drivers despise them.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 27, 2018 at 9:23 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"The aggressive, "Out of my way" drivers haaaaaate Waymos.
That's why I love them. "

This is the type of passive aggressive attitude that gives us GPS systems routing drivers down railroad tracks to their deaths and down dead-end driveways for years, scaring and annoying residents.

These companies and their foreign employees stolidly refuse the check for errors and defend their routes even when they're obviously wrong, are shown photos showing they're wrong and have been wrong for a long long time.

"The computer says so" attitude really needs work.


13 people like this
Posted by No To Waymo Pizza Delivery
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 27, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Hopefully Waymos will never be used to deliver pizzas. Nothing worse than a warm pizza that's been on the road too long.

Actually any expedited service via Waymo would be an oxymoron.


4 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2018 at 10:37 am

Quote: "It is not lawful, ethical, or safe to drive faster than the posted speed limit on any Palo Alto street. If you choose to violate the law then that's your business, but please spare us the phony justification. You are not helping traffic flow, you are not making streets safer, you are simply a scofflaw with no regard for the well-being of anyone else".

We need more people who are actually in control of their cars, not act as personal speed bumps in the belief that slavish adherence to traffic laws is actually equal to safe driving. Quite the opposite. Waymo (and waymo imitating drivers) are dangerous in that the refuse to adapt to road conditions in a reasonable fashion.


38 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2018 at 2:30 pm

@the person who complained about "slavishly following the traffic law"
someone like you, who thinks they are above the law, put my child in danger last week by speeding and running a red light. I hope I get the chance to catch you and those like you on camera next time and send the evidence to PAPD.


1 person likes this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 2, 2018 at 6:13 pm

Alum is a registered user.

Would like to just remind readers that going 5 mph over the speed limit and running a red light are very different things. There's a reason police don't spend time going after those going 30mph on Middlefield... but rather focus on distracted drivers, running traffic lights, DUI, etc—more dangerous threats.


Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2018 at 6:26 pm

@Parent: reading comprehesion, please.

Your comment is in no way a response to what I wrote. Skilled, aware driving results in safe driving. Absolutly following traffic laws does not. The situation you described about someone running a red light probably indicated that they were neither skilled, nor aware, and mindlessly violating the law. All bad.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2018 at 6:39 pm

@Rick:
Yes, I comprehend that you are very highly skilled and uniquely qualified to decide when it is not only safe, but even beneficial to break the law. I genuflect before your greatness.


2 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2018 at 8:00 pm

No need to genuflect, just practice aware driving and teach your children the same. That includes thing like no headphones on while driving, no earting while driving. Always using turns signals, slower traffic keeping right. The responsibility of driving 2000 lb chunk of metal at 70mph requires a heck of a lot more than simply obeying traffic regulations as written.


Like this comment
Posted by Karl
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 4, 2018 at 2:46 pm

In a perfect world we'd have decent rapid transit commuter lines without a need for a car which in a way is so yesterday technology anyway. But with a car, if 'every' car was in auto mode then in theory traffic would flow at the same speeds, be predictable, and there would never be accidents ... right? Unless one of them out of 5,000 had a glitch and locked up the grid.
There is a reason why serious machinery is Still overridden by human decision making and that's because a human can perceive intuitive learning skills. There will be a time where machine will perfect this, but as long as a googlebot can roam a forest yet trip on a banana peel, we will see some kind of altered expectations.
With a human driver, there will always be careless driving. Putting a bunch of senior citizens on the road at the speed limit may not be that productive for overall traffic. Using the slow lane or alternative routes might help.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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