Driving in Chandler? That car next to you may not have a driver

Waymo's testing process is a lot closer to having cars drive without a person in the driving seat.

CHANDLER, Ariz. - If you’re driving in Chandler, look at the car next to you and you may see a self-driving car. This one, however, may not have anyone in the driver's seat. 

Self-driving car company, Waymo, announced Tuesday it is pulling the just-in-case human driver from behind the steering wheel.

For the past eight years, Waymo has had a test driver at the wheel ready to take over in case of emergency, Tekedra Mawakana, global head of policy and government affairs for Waymo, said.

Waymo's cars have been involved in crashes over the years, the company acknowledged, but it said only one of those crashes was the car's fault.

That crash happened in California. The Waymo car was apparently avoiding sandbags in the road and drove into the side of a city bus. The crash was minor and there were no injuries. 

In Chandler, Waymo is testing vehicles on public roads with only an employee in the back seat. The testing started Oct. 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Waymo's self-driving cars without drivers will stay around the downtown Chandler area, Mawakana said, where they've spent the most time and "learned" the most.

This new phase of testing comes after a decade of working on the technology and 3.5 million miles driven.

In April, Waymo announced it was allowing people to ride in the self-driving cars. Those who participated in the "early rider" program will also have the chance to access these fully self-driving cars. 

The company began testing self-driving vehicles in Chandler in 2016. Waymo, which is owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, is in a race with other companies such as Delphi, General Motors, Intel, Uber, Lyft and Apple to bring autonomous vehicles to the public. Uber has also been testing their self-driving cars in the Valley since last December after California transportation regulators revoked registrations for then vehicles

The companies say the robot cars are safer than human drivers because they don't get drowsy, distracted or drunk.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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