Waymo robo-car slays dog in San Francisco

Deadly accident said to be unavoidable

A Waymo self-driving car has hit and killed a dog in San Francisco, California.

The car was operating in autonomous mode with a test driver monitoring the vehicle from the driver's seat.

"On May 21 in San Francisco, a small dog ran in front of one of our vehicles with an autonomous specialist present in the driver’s seat, and, unfortunately, contact was made," a company spokesperson told The Register in an email today.

"The investigation is ongoing, however the initial review confirmed that the system correctly identified the dog which ran out from behind a parked vehicle but was not able to avoid contact. We send our sincere condolences to the dog's owner. The trust and safety of the communities we are in is the most important thing to us and we're continuing to look into this on our end."

The death was disclosed in an autonomous vehicle collision report [PDF] filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The paperwork indicates that the collision occurred at 1056 on Toland Street, near the intersection with Toland Place, an industrial area of the American city.

The Register understands that the dog, which was off leash, emerged from an encampment on Toland Street, and that the test driver didn't see the dog approach due to obstructions. Waymo says it has reviewed the event and determined it was not possible to avoid the collision.

Waymo isn't aware of whether the dog's owner resided at the roadside encampment as the company hasn't heard from the owner.

According to State Farm Auto Insurance, about 60,000 dogs are struck by motorists in the US annually.

Asked whether Waymo intends to provide log data so that its account of the incident can be verified, a spokesperson said, "We will work with local authorities if requested to provide relevant data through appropriate legal channels to ensure the privacy of individuals who may be impacted."

The accident was not handled by the San Francisco Police Department. "Officers from Bayview Station responded to that area regarding a well-being check of a dog at that time and did not locate evidence of a collision or an injured animal," an SFPD spokesperson told The Register in an email.

Our inquiry to Waymo seeking clarification about how the incident was reported and handled was not immediately answered.

The company contends that Waymo Driver – as the biz calls its software and hardware – is reducing injuries and fatalities where Waymo vehicles are allowed.

In California, that would be "within portions of the cities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale, as well as portions of Los Angeles County including in the cities of Inglewood, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica" – the areas where Waymo has been granted an operating permit. Waymo also operates in Arizona, around Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale.

In January Waymo reported that its robotaxis had logged over one million miles of driverless rides without any injuries. Human drivers might manage that too – the rate of injury per million miles in 2020 was 0.79, according to data [PDF] from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

While robotaxis haven't proven deadly to people so far, they've been blamed for numerous traffic snarls, and for impeding public transit and emergency responders.

In January, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency wrote a letter [PDF] to the California Public Utilities Commission protesting plans to let more GM Cruise robotaxis operate in San Francisco. Cruise autonomous vehicles were responsible for 92 incidents from May 29, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2022, the SFMTA said. ®

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