Waymo’s self-driving cars are now on the roads of Sunnyvale.
“Waymo’s 39 authorized test vehicles can operate with no one in the vehicle within the approved areas of Santa Clara County. Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Sunnyvale,” said Marty Greenstein, a spokesman for the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
“The vehicles are capable of operating on freeways, highways, city streets, rural roads, and parking lots in the specified cities,” said Greenstein. “They are capable of operating at speeds up to 65 mph, in light rain and fog and at all times of day and night.”
Critics are worried that the driverless cars aren’t perfect and can be dangerous. On Oct. 19, a motorcyclist was hit by a Waymo car in Mountain View. The motorcyclist was trying to pass in the right-hand lane when the Waymo car veered into his path. The motorcyclist hit the rear bumper of the car and was injured.
Waymo reviewed the accident and released a report on Nov. 6 that determined the human driver of the Waymo vehicle was to blame. The driver took control of the vehicle when a second car moved into the Waymo vehicle’s lane. To avoid a collision, the human driver veered into the right lane. The driver did not see the motorcyclist.
Waymo says had the vehicle maintained self-control, the accident would not have happened. The accident occurred prior to Waymo receiving approval from California’s DMV to test drive the self-driving cars on public roads.
If a Waymo vehicle is involved in an accident, the company has created a manual to help police officers and other city officials deal with the driverless cars.
According to the Waymo manual, “Waymo has established a toll-free 24-hour telephone hotline dedicated to allowing police, fire departments, and other first responders to communicate directly with Waymo’s professionally-trained specialists at any time during our vehicle testing and operation on public roads.”
Even though the car is driverless, it will be held to the same laws and standards of any licensed driver.
“The normal rules of traffic responsibility still apply,” said Greenstein. “The autonomous test vehicles are required to carry owner information, vehicle registration and proof of insurance in the event of a collision or traffic violation.”
The DMV also has the ability to immediately revoke the test permit if public safety is at risk.
Capt. Wahid Kazem of the Santa Clara Police Dept. says he is not aware of any immediate plan within the department to deal with a self-driving car if it happens to cross over the Sunnyvale border into Santa Clara. The DMV says, there are specific ways to prevent that from happening.
“Waymo has attested that the technology is geofenced and the vehicles won’t travel outside the approved area,” said Greenstein. “In the future, if Waymo is interested in expanding its testing to any additional geographic areas, it will need to submit a revised application to the DMV for approval.”