A Waymo autonomous vehicle struck a pedestrian in San Francisco Wednesday night, according to a post on Reddit. A spokesperson for the Alphabet-owned company confirmed the incident on Twitter but clarified that the vehicle was in manual mode at the time of the collision.
The incident took place in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, where Waymo has been testing its vehicles since last summer. The Reddit user KWillets, who claims to have witnessed the collision, posted a photo of a Waymo vehicle stopped in the middle of the road with the driver-side door open. A firetruck is parked to the side, while a number of firefighters and bystanders are gathered in front of the vehicle. According to KWillets:
Just when we thought 2021 couldn’t get worse, we heard a thump. I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Our neighbors had gotten out of a ride share on the far side and one crossed while the other stayed behind apparently taking a picture. An SFPD patrol stopped to say something to her about being careful crossing the street(?), when a Waymo passed in the near lane and hit the one who had already crossed, as I think he returned. The victim was conscious and standing afterwards, but went to SFGH for a more accurate diagnosis. Hope he’s OK.
You can say there’s no such thing as Waymo, but as for me and Grandpa, we believe.
Asked by a commenter whether the person who was hit was jaywalking, KWillets clarified some details: “They both got out somewhere near the upper left. One crossed to the right with many seconds to spare but apparently returned and was Waymo’ed. The other one ironically did not cross, but was accosted by a patrol car.”
When contacted by The Verge, KWillets noted that they only “heard” the incident and then replayed it on closed-circuit television.
“I’m OK with the testing,” KWillets says, when asked about autonomous vehicle companies using San Francisco as a proving ground, “but SFMTA has encouraged speeding and reckless driving on our block. I had already complained about poor signal timing and drivers racing the lights.”
The incident was picked up by Omar Qazi, a Tesla fan who tweets under the handle WholeMarsBlog. Katherine Barna, a spokesperson for Waymo, responded to Qazi’s tweet, stating, “We are aware of this incident involving a Waymo vehicle, which was being driven in manual mode, and are continuing to investigate it in partnership with local authorities.”
In a follow-up email, Barna said that the collision took place on Haight Street, midblock between Webster and Buchanan. “The pedestrian was treated for injuries at the scene and was transported to the hospital in an ambulance,” Barna said. “The trust and safety of the communities in which we drive are paramount to us, and we will continue investigating this incident in partnership with local authorities.”
The safety driver has been placed on “administrative leave” by Transdev, the workforce company that supplies drivers and other operational staff to Waymo, pending the outcome of the investigation, Barna said.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Fire Department referred questions to the city’s Police Department. In a statement, SFPD said that when officers arrived at the scene, a 33-year-old male pedestrian was in the roadway. The Waymo safety driver, a 37-year-old male, also remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators.
“The pedestrian was transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries,” SFPD said in an email. “The cause of the collision is under investigation. At this time investigators do not believe that alcohol/impairment was a factor in this collision. No arrests have been made in this incident.”
Waymo’s safety drivers are not actually employed by the company, but rather work for Waymo’s workforce vendor, Transdev North America. Over the last two years, some drivers in California and Arizona have complained safety lapses, reduced benefits, and poor communication while working as safety drivers for Waymo.
AV operators are required to report crash incidents to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which oversees AV testing in the state. The department recently suspended the license of AV startup Pony.ai after one of its vehicles was involved in a single-vehicle crash while in autonomous mode.
Waymo has a better safety record than most AV companies, but the company has still been involved in a number of incidents. Last year, Waymo published 6.1 million miles of driving data in Arizona in 2019 and 2020, including 18 crashes and 29 near-miss collisions. In those incidents where its safety operators took control of the vehicle to avoid a crash, Waymo’s engineers simulated what would have happened had the driver not disengaged the vehicle’s self-driving system to generate a counterfactual. The company has also made some of its data available to academic researchers.