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Waymo Releases Self-Driving Cars On Public Roads Without A Backup Driver

Black modern car on black background.Waymo, Google’s self-driving car manufacturer, has officially opened the roads for its autonomous vehicles. The Los Angeles Times reports that the company has also removed the human backup driver from the car, so these Fiat Chrysler Pacificas are completely autonomous and cruising on public roads.

According to The Guardian, Waymo will begin transporting passengers in the coming months. Initially, a Waymo employee will sit in the backseat with the passenger, but the company will eventually transition to a fully autonomous car service.

“Because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo’s fully self-driving technology will be as a driverless service,” Waymo chief executive John Krafcik said at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, according to The Guardian.

Supporters of autonomous vehicles praise the technology for its potential to eliminate human error. For example, if you skip your seven to nine recommended hours of sleep or have a few too many drinks at the bar, a self-driving car will help you get home without driving drowsy or drunk. And according to Krafcik, the cars are fitted with a high tech series of sensors to steer the car properly.

“To have a vehicle on public roads without a person at the wheel, we’ve built some unique safety features into this minivan. Our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second. With these checks, our systems can instantly diagnose any problems and pull over or come to a safe stop if needed,” he said, according to The Guardian.

Skeptics of the technology have questioned what would happen if an autonomous vehicle did crash. Specifically, experts have raised concerns about autonomous vehicles and accident liability. While only 4% to 5% of personal injury cases are settled in court, the autonomous nature of the car could complicate topics of negligence.

“To prove that an automated driving system performed unreasonably, an injured plaintiff would likely need to show either that a human driver would have done better or that another, actual or theoretical, automated driving system would have done better,” Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor, said in a statement to The Washington Post.

Anders Karrberg, vice president of government affairs at Volvo Car Corp., also said in a statement to The Washington Post that carmakers should be liable for an accident if there is a malfunction in the autonomous car’s system.

While much of the details of autonomous vehicle safety are still under speculation, The Guardian points out that these self-driving cars may also reduce pollution by removing the need for some private cars and bring business to industries that take hits from strict drunk driving laws. According to The Guardian, Waymo is considering opening their technology for ride-sharing, trucking, and transportation.