One of those omnipresent, sensor-topped Waymo vehicles collided with a pedestrian late Wednesday night, but the company insists the vehicle was not in self-driving robot mode at the time of the accident.
There are so many of those white Waymo cars with an R2-D2 unit on top of them driving the streets of San Francisco these days that it was inevitable one would eventually get into an accident. And so it has come to pass. A Reddit user posted the above photo and account of a Waymo vehicle hitting a pedestrian in the Lower Haight late Wednesday night, and a representative of the Google-Alphabet-owned Waymo confirms that the incident did indeed happen.
The pedestrian victim was described as being “conscious and standing afterwards,” so that’s a relief. But there are obviously plenty of questions about what happened.
Katherine from Waymo PR here. We are aware of this incident involving a Waymo vehicle, which was being driven in manual mode, and are continuing to investigate it in partnership with local authorities.— Katherine Barna (@kathbarna) December 16, 2021
As seen above, a Waymo spokesperson says the car “was being driven in manual mode,” which is to say, a person was supposedly actively driving and the vehicle was not in self-driving mode. The rep does confirm the incident took place, but the claim of manual driving mode has not been independently confirmed.
You can see fire and emergency personnel on the scene in the photo, and the fire department referred questions to the police department. The police department has yet to respond or make a statement.
Similarly, the details are not confirmed. Reddit user KWillets who posted the photo gives the following account:
Just when we thought 2021 couldn't get worse, we heard a thump. I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Our neighbors had gotten out of a ride share on the far side and one crossed while the other stayed behind apparently taking a picture. An SFPD patrol stopped to say something to her about being careful crossing the street(?), when a Waymo passed in the near lane and hit the one who had already crossed, as I think he returned. The victim was conscious and standing afterwards, but went to SFGH for a more accurate diagnosis. Hope he's OK.
You can say there's no such thing as Waymo, but as for me and Grandpa, we believe.
The Verge followed up with that person, who said they’d only “heard” the incident and then replayed it on closed-circuit television. “I’m OK with the testing,” KWillets told the Verge, “but SFMTA has encouraged speeding and reckless driving on our block. I had already complained about poor signal timing and drivers racing the lights.”
That fastest creature on planet Earth is a Waymo PR person tweeting that the vehicle was in manual mode when it hit something.— Eric Tingwall (@EricTingwall) December 16, 2021
The Verge also got a statement from the Waymo spokesperson. “The pedestrian was treated for injuries at the scene and was transported to the hospital in an ambulance,” spokesperson Katherine Barna told that site. “The trust and safety of the communities in which we drive are paramount to us, and we will continue investigating this incident in partnership with local authorities.”
Fingers crossed and all, but this seems nowhere near as tragic as the Uber self-driving car killing a pedestrian in Arizona back in 2018. From all accounts, the pedestrian does not seem to be grievously injured. (But pedestrian, if you’re reading this… call Ann Phoong! You’re in for a huge settlement here!) There are a number of details we still don’t know, but now that a Waymo vehicle has put someone in the hospital, the saturation tactic of those white cars all over town could find itself at a crossroads.
Image: KWilliets via Reddit