Waymo is the latest company to be investigated for autonomous or partially automated technology

DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. government’s highway safety agency has opened another investigation into automated driving systems, this time into crashes involving Waymo’s self-driving vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted documents detailing the investigation on its website Tuesday after receiving 22 reports of Waymo vehicles crashing or doing something that may have violated traffic laws.

In the past month, the agency has opened at least four investigations into vehicles that can drive themselves or at least take over some driving functions, as it appears the devices are being regulated more aggressively.

In its investigation into Waymo, once Google’s self-driving vehicle unit, the agency said it has reports of 17 crashes and five other reports of possible traffic law violations. No injuries have been reported.

In the crashes, the Waymo vehicles struck stationary objects such as fences, chains or parked vehicles. Some of the incidents occurred shortly after the Waymo driving system behaved unexpectedly near traffic control systems, the documents show.

Waymo said NHTSA plays an important role in road safety and that it will continue to work with the agency “as part of our mission to become the most trusted driver in the world.”

The company said it conducts more than 50,000 rides every week with riders in challenging environments. “We are proud of our performance and safety record over the tens of millions of autonomous kilometers driven, as well as our proven commitment to safety transparency,” the statement said.

Waymo, based in Mountain View, California, operates robotaxis without human safety drivers in Arizona and California.

The NHTSA said it would investigate the 22 incidents involving Waymo’s fifth-generation propulsion system, plus similar scenarios “to further assess any similarities in these incidents.”

The agency said it understands that Waymo’s automated driving system was turned on during each incident, or that in some cases involving a test vehicle, a human driver turned off the system just before an accident occurred.

The probe will evaluate the system’s performance in detecting and responding to traffic control devices, and in avoiding collisions with stationary and semi-stationary objects and vehicles, the documents said.

Since late April, NHTSA has launched an investigation into collisions involving self-driving vehicles from Amazon-owned Zoox and partially automated driver assistance systems from Tesla and Ford.

In 2021, the agency ordered all companies with self-driving vehicles or partially automated systems to report all accidents to the government. The investigations rely heavily on data reported by the automakers under that order.

NHTSA has questioned whether a recall last year of Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system was effective enough to ensure human drivers were paying attention. NHTSA said it ultimately found 467 crashes involving Autopilot, resulting in 54 injuries and 14 deaths.

In the Ford investigation, the agency is investigating two overnight crashes on highways that killed three people.

The agency also pressured Tesla last year to recall its ‘Full Self Driving’ system because it can misbehave at intersections and not always adhere to speed limits.

Despite their names, neither Tesla’s Autopilot nor its ‘Full Self Driving’ systems can drive vehicles themselves, and the company says human drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.

In addition, NHTSA has taken steps to establish performance standards for automatic emergency braking systems, which require them to brake quickly to avoid pedestrians and other vehicles.

The standards come after other research into automatic braking systems from Tesla, Honda and Fisker, because they can brake without reason, increasing the risk of an accident.

In a 2022 interview, then-NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said the agency would step up scrutiny of automated vehicles, and that the agency has recently taken more action. NHTSA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator since Cliff left for the California Air Resources board in August 2022.

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