Can A Waymo Self-Driving Car Get A Ticket?

Waymo Self-Driving Car Accidents

Waymo self-driving taxis are a common sight in the Phoenix metro area these days. Probably because the excellent weather free from snow and ice and with virtually no rain, makes the Phoenix area an excellent test spot for self-driving cars. The lack of bad weather means the LiDAR, radar and cameras that a Waymo uses to see are not obstructed by bad weather.

A quick search turns up many “interesting” driving maneuvers performed by Waymo self-driving vehicles. I’ve seen them drive the wrong way down roads or swerve in and out of their lanes like the Waymo was on its phone or had too much to drink.

Recently on May 21, 2024, a Waymo driving in Phoenix collided with a telephone pole in an alley. There was yellow striping on the roadway of the alley to alert drivers to keep their distance from the pole. This resulted in a recall of the Waymo vehicle, but no ticket.

Here’s the story from 12 News:

Human Drivers vs. Self-Driving Cars – A Double Standard

I’m a traffic ticket attorney, so I know exactly what would have happened if a human driver crashed into a telephone pole. At a minimum, the human driver would have been charged with a violation of A.R.S. 28-701A, failure to control speed to avoid a collision.

If the human driver had been on their phone at the time of the collision, they would have also been charged with a violation of 28-914, using a mobile phone while driving.

Now if a human driver ran into a telephone pole in an alley in Old Town Scottsdale while looking at their phone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Scottsdale Police cite the driver for reckless driving.

So considering how a human driver would have been treated, what happened to the Waymo after it ran into a telephone pole? Nothing. Waymo did a software update. Why is a crash just a mistake to learn from for a self-driving Waymo car, but a civil or criminal charge for a human driver? Why the differential treatment? I have no idea, but it bears consideration.

Should the laws change to address this double standard?

 As criminal defense attorneys and advocates of liberty, we don’t generally advocate for more laws and regulations from the government. The part that rubs us the wrong way here is that if a self-driving car, essentially a robot, can make a mistake and not get in trouble, why is the same not true for a human? 

Perhaps the laws regarding traffic accidents need to be softened. After all, even if no ticket is issued in an accident, there is still a civil remedy. Someone who sustains property damage or personal injury in an accident can sue civilly to recover those damages. This is what insurance is for. So if there is already a civil remedy, why pile on with a ticket? 

I’m not sure what the other option is. With regard to Waymo, who would the police issue a ticket to? The software developer? Maybe self-driving car companies should have to designate a human employee to be cited anytime one of their self-driving cars gets in an accident.

Maybe self-driving cars should be outlawed if no one can be assigned ultimate responsibility for these accidents. A self-driving car is not capable of conforming to some of the other driving laws like exchanging information after an accident. If a human fails to exchange information after an accident, it is a crime.

Maybe humans will eventually be banned from driving. This sounds like a terrible option.

I don’t know what the answer is. This is new territory for humans. I do know that even robots get into car accidents though.

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