Waymo's self-driving minivans. Photo: Courtesy of Waymo

This week during several automated driving demonstrations in Arizona I was reminded why we should all hope self-driving technology is ready soon.

Why it matters: Self-driving cars don't get drunk, tired, distracted — or do things that are just plain stupid — behaviors I saw in spades on the roads in and around Phoenix and Tuscon.

Details: Not five minutes into a Waymo One ride (with a backup safety driver) in Chandler, a driver blasted through a red light and T-boned another car just ahead of me.

  • Neither driver was seriously hurt, but both cars sustained heavy damage.
  • Earlier in the week, I was riding in a TuSimple automated semi-truck on I-10, a busy freight corridor. (A backup driver and engineer were up front.)
  • Most of the drive was unremarkable, but then a car limping along the shoulder decided to pull slowly into the lane of traffic moving at 65 mph.
  • TuSimple's automated system rightly detected the potential problem and told the safety driver to take over.
  • Later, a camper towing a Jeep drifted into the semi-truck's lane while passing and TuSimple's backup driver opted to take control herself, as a safety precaution.

Road rage is a different problem, for which there might not be a solution until all cars are driven by robots.

Driving the news: A disgruntled former Waymo safety driver was arrested this week and charged with aggravated assault and reckless driving for allegedly trying to cause a crash with Waymo vehicles.

  • Police say the man deliberately cut in front of a manually operated Waymo vehicle, slamming the brakes, causing Waymo's safety driver to rear end his car. Her injuries required hospitalization.

One reassuring incident: A bicyclist told me in a Tweet message about a near-miss he had with an unoccupied driverless Waymo vehicle. He thought the vehicle making a left turn was going to strike him as he rode through the intersection.

  • I investigated with Waymo, which later shared a video of the moment so that I could see how the car recorded it.
  • The car spotted the cyclist a full block away and tracked its movement continually, slowing to 6 mph as it approached the intersection to make the left turn.
  • Importantly, the computer created a red "digital fence" across the intersection, telling the car not to proceed until the cyclist had cleared its path. Then the fence disappeared and the car completed the turn.
  • If everyone could see what the car's computer saw, and how it adjusted its behavior, they'd be more comfortable with the idea of self-driving technology.

The bottom line: 36,560 people died in highway accidents in 2018. The vast majority of those accidents were caused by human behavior.

Go deeper

Supreme Court won't block Rhode Island's eased absentee voting rules

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The Supreme Court said Thursday that it will not block Rhode Island's move to ease its requirements for absentee voting during November's election.

Why it matters: The decision is a loss for Republicans, who had requested an emergency order as the state is expected to begin mailing out its ballots.

Breaking down Uber and Lyft's threat to suspend services in California

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Uber and Lyft are ratcheting up the fight with California’s state government over the classification of drivers with a move that would deprive Californians of their ride-hailing services (and halt driver income).

Driving the news: On Wednesday, both companies said that if a court doesn’t overturn or further pause a new ruling forcing them to reclassify California drivers as employees, they’ll suspend their services in the state until November’s election, when voters could potentially exempt them by passing a ballot measure.

Trump announces normalization of ties between Israel and UAE

Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, Trump and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto; Samuel Corum; Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump announced a "historic" deal Thursday which will see Israel and the UAE open full diplomatic relations and Israel suspend its annexation plans in the West Bank.

Why it matters: This is a major breakthrough for Israel, which lacks diplomatic recognition in many Middle Eastern countries but has been steadily improving relations in the Gulf, largely due to mutual antipathy toward Iran.