ARIZONA NEWS

Waymo to start testing driverless cars in Phoenix area

Nov 7, 2017, 11:33 AM | Updated: 11:40 am
FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, file photo, a Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's ...

FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, file photo, a Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's suite of sensors and radar is shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. 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 in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz. It’s a major step toward vehicles driving themselves without human backups on public roads. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

PHOENIX — Waymo announced Tuesday that it will soon start test-driving cars without someone in the driver’s seat in the Phoenix area.

“Over the past eight years of careful development and robust testing, our vehicles have been undergoing the world’s longest driving test to be safe and experienced drivers on the road,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a release.

“We are confident that our cars are reliable and ready to start test-driving without a test driver in the driver’s seat.”

Waymo has been testing self-driving cars in Phoenix and other cities for at least a year, but there was always someone in the driver’s seat, just in case. The latest round of tests moves that person to the back seat.

The company said computers inside the minivans will be making all of the driving decisions, including stopping for traffic lights and pedestrians. The employee can stop the vehicle if anything were to go wrong.

Maricopa County officials said the tests will eventually make the roads safer.

“Safety is essential to the well-being of Arizona and our roadways, and self-driving car technology could make our roads safer and save thousands of lives tragically lost every year,” Eric Anderson, the transportation director for Maricopa Association of Governments, said in the release.

Waymo did not give the exact location of the tests but said the driverless cars will be in “the Phoenix region where they have tested extensively,” which includes Chandler.

“Waymo’s work here in Chandler is groundbreaking as they work toward their goal of fully autonomous vehicles,” Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny said in the release.

The test will take place in a small area at first, then spread to portions of five cities and 100 square miles in the Phoenix area. Eventually it will go to the whole metro area.

The company also wouldn’t say how many minivans are taking part in the initial testing. It has a fleet of 100 autonomous vans in Phoenix, with plans to add 500.

Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, is in a race with other companies such as Delphi, General Motors, Intel, Uber, Apple and Lyft to bring autonomous vehicles to the public. 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.

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Waymo to start testing driverless cars in Phoenix area