New safety concerns about Waymo driverless cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now investigating whether flawed technology is behind a series of crashes involving self-driving Waymo cars. 

The investigation comes as the driverless ride-hailing service prepares to go live in Austin later this year. Since March, Waymo cars have been doing test drives in Austin, with Waymo employees inside, but no one behind the wheel. 

"It's really not surprising that people are apprehensive about their safety when it comes to self-driving cars," said Daniel Armbruster, spokesperson for AAA Texas. 

The investigation is focused specifically on about 450 cars equipped with Waymo's 5th Generation Automated Driving System, after nearly two dozen mishaps in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix, where Waymo currently operates. 

In the probe, which began last Monday, NHTSA is looking at a total of 22 incidents, including 17 crashes or fires. No one was hurt or killed. 

Notably, none of the Waymo cars collided with other moving vehicles, but they did crash into all sorts of other things like chains, gates and parked cars. Some cars disobeyed traffic lights, entered construction zones, or even drove on the wrong side of the road with cars coming. 

NHTSA will investigate the driving system and look for any patterns, but, notably, this is not a recall, and may not change Waymo's plans in Austin, especially with competitor Cruise expected to resume its self-driving car service soon. 

Cruise paused Austin operations in October, following a crash and several social media videos showing the cars causing traffic problems. 

An AAA survey found 66% of drivers were fearful of driverless cars, with 25% expressing uncertainty, and just 9% saying they trust the technology. 

"That's a big number. And it's actually increased over the last few years instead of decreased, even though technology has advanced," said Armbruster. 

In a statement to FOX 7 Austin, a Waymo spokesperson said: 

"At Waymo we currently serve over 50 thousand weekly trips for our riders in some of the most challenging and complex environments. We are proud of our performance and safety record over tens of millions of autonomous miles driven, as well as our demonstrated commitment to safety transparency. NHTSA plays a very important role in road safety and we will continue to work with them as part of our mission to become the world’s most trusted driver."