Waymo expanding autonomous driving tests to include freeways

Credit: Waymo

Waymo, the self-driving unit from Google parent company Alphabet, is set to expand its autonomous vehicle testing to include select freeways in Arizona.

In a press release on Monday, Waymo announced the plans to begin testing its rider-only ride-hailing trips on freeways across Phoenix, in a phased approach that will start with trips for employees. While the release didn’t state a specific date that these tests will begin, the company says it has been incrementally ramping up its driver-monitored testing on freeways over the last year.

“Waymo will begin testing its fully autonomous passenger cars without a human driver on freeways in Phoenix to soon help Waymo One riders get where they’re going safely and efficiently,” writes the company in the release.

Waymo says that it also has years of testing experience with rider-only vehicle fleets, set to help inform its safety approach to the expansion. In addition, Waymo shared a video of its self-driving system navigating freeways for both a passenger vehicle and a class 8 truck, both of which the company says it has millions of miles of experience testing with a specialist present.

You can see footage from the Waymo video below, in which the system is navigating both a passenger vehicle and a class 8 truck.


Waymo also notes the significant time savings that expanding to freeway routes will offer. This is evidenced in side-by-side images shared in the release of a drive from the Sky Harbor International Airport to Northern Scottsdale, with and without freeways, the former of which cuts the driving time in half.

Credit: Waymo

The autonomous ride-hailing company also says it plans to work closely with public safety officials on best practices, along with teaching them about Waymo’s technology. Waymo also detailed its safety approach in a 2020 blog post, which can be found here.

On its website, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) outlines the state’s autonomous driving program and lists companies that have submitted to test and operate autonomous vehicles in the state, including Waymo.

“Public safety is our highest priority, and we are in regular communication with and closely monitoring autonomous vehicle companies testing and operating self-driving vehicles in Arizona,” wrote Bill Lamoreaux, ADOT Motor Vehicle Department Assistant Comms Director, in an email to Teslarati.

Lamoreaux also noted that Waymo and other companies must follow all federal traffic laws, regulations and guidelines, as well as Title 28 of the Arizona Revised Statutes and all regulations and policies set forth by ADOT.

Operations from Waymo and other autonomous ride-hailing companies such as Cruise have been scrutinized by regulators in the past. Although Cruise’s state permit to operate driverless vehicles was revoked in California following an accident with a pedestrian, Waymo is still approved to test its vehicles in San Francisco.

Despite the potential safety risks presented by self-driving vehicles, the systems are also expected to improve as they are tested more and more, with the ultimate goal of helping them someday become safer than human drivers.

Tesla is another company testing an early, semi-autonomous driving system with its Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta, which can be operated by users who purchase the add-on. Although Tesla’s FSD beta model doesn’t include ride-hailing, nor does it include fully driverless operations, the company has long touted a future of “robotaxis,” and highway testing has been available on the beta software for years.

Updated 2:44 p.m. MT: Added response from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

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Waymo expanding autonomous driving tests to include freeways
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