Jul 12, 2023 - News

Waymo's monitoring your driving speed in San Francisco

A Waymo car waiting to pick up Megan. Photo: Megan Rose Dickey/Axios

Waymo's driverless cars found that San Francisco's other drivers — the human ones — speed 33% of the time, according to new data the company released Tuesday.

Why it matters: Speeding is dangerous, as pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed in an accident when a car is traveling at an average of 30 mph compared to 20 mph, and over five times more likely when a car is driving at 40 mph, according to data from the AAA Foundation.

  • In San Francisco, speeding is one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities, according to Stephen Chun, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Driving the news: Waymo conducted the study over a 10-day period in May, where it found drivers speed 33% of the time on roads with speed limits of 25 mph and 30 mph.

  • Waymo said its driverless cars recorded the speeds of hundreds of thousands of vehicles throughout both San Francisco and Phoenix.

Yes, but: San Francisco still has slower drivers compared to many other major cities.

  • About 66% of major San Francisco roads with frequent pedestrian traffic have average vehicle speeds under 25 mph, compared to the national average of 36%, according to a report from mobility trends company StreetLight Data.

The San Francisco Police Department, which is responsible for enforcing traffic laws, is working to address traffic violations in the city’s high injury areas, in addition to focusing on speed enforcement, Gonee Sepulveda, a spokesperson for SFPD, told Axios via email.

Zoom out: In Phoenix, the other city where Waymo operates its driverless cars, the company observed human drivers speeding 47% of the time on roads with speed limits of 35mph.

Of note: While Waymo cars are programmed to adhere to posted speed limits, they're not perfect angels.

What they're saying: "We truly hope that automated driving can significantly improve safety and provide other benefits to those who travel in San Francisco," Chun told Axios via email. "However, we are not there yet."

What to watch: Waymo and competitor Cruise are seeking to expand their paid passenger services in San Francisco but need approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

  • Chun said the driverless technology "is simply not ready to operate 24/7 in the city," adding autonomous vehicles "are creating hazards in our streets."
  • Waymo, however, said data suggests it's "already reducing traffic injuries and fatalities in places where we operate, in particular by eliminating risk factors such as speeding," according to Trent Victor, the company's director of safety research and best practices.
  • The CPUC is set to vote on the matter next month.

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