There are many conflicting opinions about whether robotaxis will make our streets and pedestrian traffic safer. Continuous advances in technology hold the promise of self-driving vehicles that won’t speed, ignore safety or become too incapacitated to drive. More and more companies are testing these self-driving vehicles, and Washington State leads the way in extensive testing in the Pacific Northwest.
Large Tech Companies Testing Vehicles and Automated Driving
Many major tech companies are seeking competitive advantages by engineering and testing self-driving cars. The latest tests involve limited robotaxi service in Arizona and San Francisco. One of the top companies is Waymo, which spun off from Google. Washington State’s Department of Licensing has received applications for testing self-driving cars from seven companies. Oregon has received notification from two additional companies that want to initiate the testing of self-driving taxis as well.
Washington is a popular choice for testing because the state is well-known for lighter regulations and minimal reporting. The state allows self-driving car testing with or without an emergency backup driver. The state’s thriving craft beer industry makes it an excellent choice for testing rides where they’re most needed — in active nightlife areas where people often drink and drive dangerously.
Top testing companies for self-driving vehicles include Waymo, Intel, NVIDIA, Torc Robotics, May Mobility, Navya, Inc., and Dooblai LLC.
Waymo has conducted extensive self-driving tests around Kirkland, Washington, where the company has extensive offices. The company affirms that it has already logged 5 million miles of testing across all of its testing locations — especially around the San Francisco Bay area.
Intel and Daimler
Truck manufacturer Daimler and chip manufacturer Intel have joined forces to test self-driving vehicles. The initial vehicles will consist of a Daimler project for truck platooning, which is linking a fleet of semis for better, more accurate convoys for transporting goods.
This advanced technology chipmaker specializes in artificial intelligence applications and machine learning. The company is known for top-tier sensors and vehicle software. Essentially, Nvidia delivers everything necessary to develop driverless vehicles at scale — except the car itself.
Torc Robotics, a Virginia-based company, recently posted pictures of its cross-country tour of Washington in a self-driving Lexus SUV. The vehicle encountered an expected rain squall in heavy traffic, which is handled like an experienced driver.
Michigan-based May Mobility, which manufactures a self-driving mini-shuttle bus, recently bid for service as a downtown shuttle bus in Belleview, Washington. The company has bid to supply transportation on a 1- to 2-mile loop through the city’s office and restaurant districts with connections at the city’s transport center.
Navya of North America manufactures self-driving robotaxis and shuttles. Navya doesn’t yet have robotaxis in Washington, but the company plans to test the waters. The company’s Autonom® Shuttle Evo seats up to 15 people and can travel for up to 9 hours before requiring a recharge. Navya, Inc. won both the “Best Consumer Experience” and “Best Endurance & Reliability” awards from the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority for companies that specialize in autonomous passenger transportation.
Dooblai, a company that is headquartered in the Redmond-Bellevue areas of Washington, manufactures self-driving software.
In Washington State, the governor issued an executive order to encourage the testing of autonomous vehicles in the state. The state already had existing legislation supporting self-driving vehicles and mandating the development of policies to govern self-driving vehicles.
Accidents and Documentation of Self-driving Cars
The basic question remains — will self-driving cars deliver the anticipated results of greater safety for both drivers and pedestrians? Studies provide a mixed answer. Autonomous vehicles have so far been involved in 9.1 crashes for every million miles traveled. In 2021, in Spokane alone, there were 163 pedestrian accidents resulting in 13 deaths. While these numbers are significantly lower than cars with drivers, it’s important to keep in mind that driverless cars only represent a fraction of the vehicles on the road.
Other Testing Areas of Self-driving Cars
Twenty-nine states have approved testing of autonomous vehicles with a human backup driver, but only Washington allows completely automated tests. According to information published at inverse.com, Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s executive order encouraged autonomous testing in the state without backup drivers.
The list of companies that have applied for Washington testing doesn’t include any companies that were involved in serious AV testing crashes. Several Tesla drivers have been injured or killed in tests of the vehicles’ “autopilot” software, which glitched and resulted in the AVs slamming into stationary vehicles. The latest Tesla accidents were reported on May 11, 2022.
A test sedan for Uber hit and killed a pedestrian as recently as March 2018 in what is being recognized as the first-ever fatal self-driving car accident. There are questions surrounding whether the safety test driver was distracted when the car hit the pedestrian, and in fact, the “driver” was charged with negligent homicide and will go on trial later this year. Interestingly, Uber has escaped liability because the company claims the accident would not have happened had the driver not been distracted.
Most Recent Car Accident Statistics in Spokane
According to the information posted at kxly.com, traffic accidents are increasing in Spokane and the rest of Washington. The U.S. The Department of Transportation is spending millions of dollars to reduce accident rates, and President Biden recently launched the “Safe System Approach,” an initiative designed to minimize accident deaths and injuries. This multi-billion dollar initiative was launched in November 2021 as part of a larger infrastructure bill. It focuses on predicting human errors that lead to accidents in an effort to protect drivers, bikers, and pedestrians.
It’s way too soon to predict whether AVs hold the answer to safer driving. There are possible software glitches, driver interventions, and hardware malfunctions to consider. If the average computer is any indicator, traffic could be held hostage by criminals hacking the software. On the positive side, most accident statistics in Washington point to distracted driving, driving under the influence, and speeding as the major cause of accidents. Widespread use of AVs can offer solutions to those driving problems.