Autonomous vehicle manufacturer Waymo and Chandler, Arizona authorities are investigating a crash between a self-driving minivan and a Honda sedan Friday, April 4.
The Chandler Police Department said that an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica belonging to Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo was hit by the Honda. According to auto blog Jalopnik, the Honda swerved to avoid striking a third vehicle but the evasive maneuver put it in the path of the Waymo van, which was driving at a low rate of speed. The two vehicles collided, injuring the driver of the autonomous van.
According to the Chandler Police Department’s crash report, the Waymo van had a human safety driver but it was in autonomous mode when the crash occurred. However, on Saturday, a statement released by Waymo said that the vehicle was in “manual mode” when “a silver Honda sedan traveling eastbound on Chandler Blvd swerved across the median strip and struck the Waymo vehicle.”
A dashcam video released by Waymo shows the Honda suddenly jumping the median and plowing in the left side of the autonomous vehicle.
It’s clear that the Honda’s human driver, who ran a red light before jumping the median into oncoming traffic, was to blame for the accident. But the collision still raises questions about whether autonomous vehicles are ready to handle unusual traffic situations and whether self-driving technologies are better equipped to make sudden defensive maneuvers than human drivers.
Uber suspended its autonomous vehicle programs in Arizona and other states after one of its self-driving SUVs struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe March 18. Similar to last week’s Waymo crash, questions emerged as to whether the Uber collision was avoidable. Dashcam video shows the pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, walking her bike across the road directly in front of the Uber vehicle, which was in autonomous mode, at night. It’s unclear whether the human safety driver at the wheel, who was looking down when the collision occurred, would have been able to avoid hitting Ms. Herzberg.
Critics of autonomous vehicle programs often point out that self-driving technologies have a lot of promise, but that their life-saving potential can only be realized when all vehicles on the road are equipped with autonomous driving capabilities. Until then, accidents involving autonomous vehicles will continue to happen.