- Waymo, the autonomous vehicle (AV) spinoff of Google parent company Alphabet, wants to help emergency responders prepare for a future where they would have to interact with self-driving cars. In a safety report, the company says it is working with safety officials to see how the vehicles interact with ambulances, fire engines and police cars, and how first responders can deal with incidents involving AVs.
- Because a self-driving car may not have someone to hand over license and registration information, Waymo will have a 24/7 telephone hotline for first responders to speak to Waymo representatives, and vehicle documents will be on the sun visors, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There will also be a "Live Help" button on the car’s ceiling to connect to the help line.
- Waymo’s cars can also detect a collision and will notify the company of an emergency so a fleet manager can be dispatched. The cars stop driving if the air bags deploy.
Safety concerns continue to hound the early rollout of autonomous vehicles, especially as high-profile crashes like the fatal collision in Tempe, AZ bring public scrutiny. Waymo’s safety report goes beyond the typical concerns about passenger and pedestrian safety to discuss how the company’s fleet can interact with emergency responders.
Through interactions with safety agencies in cities where Waymo is testing, the company is working on a safety procedure covering the moment of a collision to towing the car away (once the car is off, it can be safely taken away). Crucially, the safety report also notes that its vehicles can detect flashing lights and sirens from up to a hundred feet away and pull over for emergency vehicles on the road.
As cities continue to ramp up tests of AVs — bolstered by a proposed change to U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) regulations that would allow the cars to operate without a human driver — the policy around the cars remains uncertain. The Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report in August advocating for policies that would reduce potential safety risks as AVs come online, including better rules for law enforcement in dealing with AVs and noting that law enforcement has not been involved in many discussions around AV policy. The Waymo policies should offer a potential model for how emergency responders deal with an unfamiliar traffic dynamic.