Waymo on March 22, 2023 unveiled a publication that outlines the framework of a safety case for autonomous vehicles. The autonomous vehicle (AV) maker promoted what they called “Case Credibility Assessment”—a means for determining the strength and believability of any safety case.
In an accompanying blog post, Waymo said its safety case will be “a formal way to explain how a company determines that an autonomous vehicle system is safe enough to be deployed on public roads without a human driver, and includes evidence to support that determination.”
A “Safety case” by a robotaxi maker is an argument that the vehicle autonomous driving vehicle presents an “absence of unreasonable risk” to the riders and public. A safety case consists of credible evidence and argument that the autonomous vehicle will be safe as claimed.
Waymo hopes that the safety case will not only be credible but that the methodology will be adopted by other autonomous driving vehicles to prove to regulators that AVs can be safely deployed on a wider scale. Through this means, Waymo hopes to improve public perception of self-driving cars—which has declined over the years according to surveys.
“What we’re doing is trying to show our results and gain trust,” said Trent Victor, Waymo’s director of safety research.
Improved safety has been one of the strongest arguments of AV operators. With more than 1 million people losing their lives to auto crashes across the globe every year, AV operators are posing as life-saving alternatives and pressing on regulators to allow more fully autonomous vehicles on the road.
Who is supposed to examine a safety case?
The arguments around the safety of AVs have centered around the fact that AVs don’t get drunk, do not break the law, over speed, or get distracted like humans. While these arguments seem convincing, there is a paucity of data to show that autonomous vehicles are safer than human drivers. The parties that are expected to examine the safety case include;
- Waymo’s internal team heading the approval of products for release and the CEO or boards that signs off on it
- Industry experts that will advise the public on the safety of AVs
- Government regulators that issue licenses to vehicles with an absence of unreasonable risk
- Insurance underwriters that will have to pay for crashes
- Partners that may have reputational risk or liability
- Customers and individual riders
The role of each of the parties will be slightly different and some may eventually be removed from the picture. For example, some of the companies planning to deploy robotaxis like Amazon, GM, and Alphabet have more capital than insurance companies—and may decide to self-insure their products.
In the past, Waymo tried to measure the safety of its AVs through the simulation of dozens of real-world fatal crashes that happened in Arizona over close to a decade. In addition to that, Waymo has presented scientific papers for peer review and publication that compares the performance of human drivers to an autonomous vehicle.
Waymo has also sent comments to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urging the agency not to assume a “perspective” approach to regulations. The published blueprint for a safety case is expected to influence a public debate over AVs.
“Actual safety cases with arguments and evidence are typically shared with respective regulatory authorities through established processes, as they often contain sensitive and business-critical information,” said Waymo’s spokesperson, Julia Ilina through an email.
Other AV makers have previously pushed for a broad safety case
Waymo is not the first AV maker to advocate for the adoption of a broad safety case for AVs. Aurora previously published a proprietary safety case framework about two years ago. The company was founded by Chris Urmson, a former Google self-driving car project lead engineer.
Aurora claims to be the sole AV maker to “commit to Safety Case progress as the determinant of when to start autonomous driving operations and the mass deployment of autonomous vehicles to customers,” according to an email sent by the company’s spokesperson, Jake Martin.
“We are frankly excited to see Waymo follow suit, and hope they were able to leverage our content on how to understand, develop, and process evidence for a Safety Case when putting together their own,” said Martin.
It is unclear if competitors like Motional, Zoox, and Cruise will follow suit and adopt the safety case in public view or whether they will come up with a different approach to safety. However, Victor highlighted that the main goal was to get the public, regulators, and competitors on the same page.
“What we are trying to do is get everyone moving towards the same direction with the regulators and our competitors,” said Victor. “We have arguments to back up why we think this is the right way forward.”
Data from AV tests show increasing crashes
The latest data from Apple’s AV testing program in California has helped to shine a light on the safety level of autonomous vehicles. The recent data shows that Apple has added more drivers to its test fleet, bringing the number to over 200. These authorized drivers will operate the company’s fleet of 67 AVs.
Although Apple has indicated that the Apple Car which is expected to go into production in 2026 will not be fully self-driving, there are indications that the company may still include advanced driver assistance features that will allow drivers to play games or watch movies while on the move.
The recent publication by macReports also shows the number of collisions involving AVs from different manufacturers since 13 January 2023. According to the report, Waymo has been involved in the highest number of collisions followed by Cruise and Zoox.
Waymo Hits 1 Million Test Mile, Takes Autonomous Driving Taxi To Los Angeles
Waymo Endorses the League of American Bicyclists & Argo AI’s Efforts to Promote Safe Autonomous Vehicle-Cyclist Interactions