Consumer Watchdog Warns of Dangers of Driverless Cars without Human Backup Drivers in the Vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles approval today of Waymo’s application to test driverless robot cars in Santa Clarita County is premature and key questions must be answered by both Waymo, Google’s driverless car unit, and the Department before any testing starts, Consumer Watchdog said.

Waymo’s entire application should be released to the public immediately, the nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group said.

“The DMV is letting Waymo turn all of us into human guinea pigs for testing their robot cars, without an adequate explanation of what’s going on,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project Director.

To get a driverless testing permit, a company must certify that has met a number of safety requirements.

“The problem with the process is that Waymo only had to certify it met the requirements,” said Simpson. “Worse, we don’t even know what Waymo said.  Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘Trust, but verify.’ The DMV is simply trusting Waymo – without any real verification – and is putting our safety at risk.”

Waymo made certifications in its application, but they raise more questions than were answered.

For instance, will residents be informed of where the testing will occur? Will any testing be done near schools or parks? What hours of the day will testing be done?

Exactly what testing has been done under controlled conditions that simulate the planned area of operation? For how long and for how many miles? How many disengagements – when the robot technology failed – were recorded during testing?

The driverless robot car being tested is supposed to be monitored remotely. Will each car have an individual monitor or will one monitor be responsible for multiple cars. “Monitoring these things will be like playing a video game,” said Simpson.  “Can you imagine what it would be like to be playing a dozen video games at once? Of course, with video games nobody gets killed when something goes wrong.”

The DMV said these are the requirements that Waymo certified it met:

  • Providing evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million.
  • Verifying vehicles are capable of operating without a driver and meet federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and is a SAE Level 4 or 5 vehicle.
  • Confirming vehicles have been tested under controlled conditions that simulate the planned area of operation.
  • Notifying local governments of planned testing in the area.
  • Developing a Law Enforcement Interaction Plan that provides information to law enforcement and other first responders on how to interact with test vehicles.
  • Continuously monitoring the status of test vehicles and providing two-way communication with any passengers.
  • Training remote operators on the technology being tested.