A self-driving minivan belonging to Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, was involved in a crash in Chandler, Arizona on Friday. The aftermath looks brutal. (Update: In a statement to the press, Waymo says the self-driving Pacifica was actually in “manual mode” just before the crash. This conflicts with the police statement.)
We don’t know a whole bunch about the conditions surrounding this crash, but we do know from a Chandler Police Department statement provided by spokesperson Seth Tyler that Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica was in “autonomous mode” during the crash, and that it doesn’t appear to have been the primary cause of the impact.
“We are currently investigating a minor injury collision involving two vehicles, one of which is a Waymo autonomous vehicle,” the statement reads. “This afternoon around noon a vehicle (Honda sedan) traveling eastbound on Chandler Blvd. had to swerve to avoid striking a vehicle traveling northbound on Los Feliz Dr.”
“As the Honda swerved, the vehicle continued eastbound into the westbound lanes of Chandler Blvd. & struck the Waymo vehicle, which was traveling at a slow speed and in autonomous mode.”
The statement goes on to say that there was someone sitting in the driver’s seat of the van and that the person sustained “minor injuries.”
The incident, whose aftermath you can see in ABC 15's video above, is still under investigation, according to the police statement.
This happens after a number of crashes involving self-driving cars has brought the technology under heavy scrutiny. In fact, in March, Waymo’s CEO claimed that its technology could have avoided a fatal crash involving an Uber-owned autonomous car. Could the Waymo van involved in the crash shown above have avoided the impact?
We’ve reached out to Waymo asking just that, but the company did not immediately respond.
Update 10:30 p.m. Friday:
This post has been updated to clarify that the police statement was referencing the Waymo van when mentioning minor injuries to a person in the driver’s seat.
Update 9:20 a.m. Saturday:
In its statement on yesterday’s crash, Waymo’s press team says the van was actually in “manual mode” just before impact. “At approximately 12:06pm (MST), our self-driving minivan was travelling westbound in manual mode on Chandler Blvd approaching N Los Feliz Dr/N Hearthstone Way in Chandler,” the statement reads, “when a silver Honda sedan travelling eastbound on Chandler Blvd swerved across the median strip and struck the Waymo vehicle.”
Waymo’s press release also includes this crash video taken by cameras onboard the minivan:
We’ve called the Chandler Police Department to understand the discrepancy between Waymo’s statement and the police’s claim that the van was in “autonomous mode” just prior to the crash.
Update Saturday 2:45 p.m.
Asked to explain why police said the minivan was in autonomous mode when Google claims it was in manual mode, Chandler police spokesman Seth Tyler suggested the discrepancy may have been because of the chaos of the crash.
“I would attribute it to human perception,” he said in an email to Jalopnik. “While the Waymo operator told us the vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, the operator of the Honda, the one who blatantly ran the red light, told our officer on scene he did not enter the intersection on a red tho the video clearly shows he did. I don’t have an answer why the Waymo driver said this... I was just trying to illustrate how perception can affect what we think we saw or did, especially in very quick and dynamic events such as vehicle collisions. This is not uncommon between those involved and witnesses to vehicle collisions.”
He added: “This crash also illustrates the dangers of red light runners.”