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Is Silicon Valley ready for fully autonomous Waymo vehicles?

Levi Sumagaysay, The Mercury News on

Published in Science & Technology News

Waymo, the first company to get approval from the Department of Motor Vehicles to test fully self-driving vehicles on California roads, faces questions and concerns galore as it prepares to roll out the cars in Silicon Valley.

For example, what happens if one of its vehicles -- which won't have a driver behind the wheel -- gets into an accident?

The self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, equipped with a two-way cellular communication link, will notify Waymo's fleet-response specialists. Those specialists will call 911 if needed. Then Waymo will send a response team to help passengers and first responders on the scene.

That's what Waymo has shared on its website and with police, including officers in Los Altos, one of the cities where the company will be doing the testing.

"Waymo has been very proactive and very cognizant of community concerns," said Captain Scott McCrossin of the Los Altos Police Department.

Waymo first talked to Los Altos city officials in April, when the company submitted an application to test its fully driverless vehicles to the DMV. In late October, the DMV approved Waymo's application for testing in five cities. Besides Los Altos, the cars will be tested in Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto.

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The Alphabet-owned company has not publicly announced when testing will begin, and the cities say they have not been informed of a timeline.

But Waymo has been engaged in various levels of outreach, according to those cities' representatives and correspondence included in the company's application with the DMV.

Waymo held a safety training for first responders in September where the company explained its safety and law-enforcement interaction protocols, McCrossin said. In September and October, Waymo held public forums in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Over the summer, Waymo displayed a self-driving vehicle at the Sunnyvale library. In September, the company was at a tech expo downtown. And Waymo has held a training session with the city's public-safety officials.

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