Self-driving car industry continues to speed ahead

The Phoenix metro area is a hotspot for testing self-driving vehicles, with companies like Uber and Waymo taking advantage of limited regulations in Arizona. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – After trial, error and more than a decade of innovation, self-driving cars are being tested alongside human-driven vehicles in dozens of U.S. cities. Companies like Uber and Waymo – a subsidy of Google – have made the Phoenix area a hub for testing their autonomous vehicles, drawn by permissive state regulations.

Successes include Waymo’s cars cumulatively driving more than 5 million miles, with over 2 million of those since May 2017. But the first fatal accident involving a pedestrian by an Uber vehicle in Tempe in March has raised safety concerns over whether the race for a driverless future is speeding ahead too quickly.

The accident led Gov. Doug Ducey, who had supported self-driving cars in Arizona with an executive order, to suspend Uber from driving its autonomous vehicles on Arizona roads.

“We will take strong action against any company or operator that does not demonstrate they are ready for primetime,” Ducey said in a tweet. “If you’re going to operate in Arizona; you will have to meet these standards.”

As Uber pulls back to work on its program, Waymo continues to move ahead. Chief executive John Krafcik said its fleet could be ready to drive Phoenix residents as soon as next year.

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