Waymo's Driverless Application Is Scrubbed of Insurance Details

"It's not at all clear to me why this was redacted," said John Simpson, the privacy and technology project director at Consumer Watchdog. "I do think the policy limits and information about coverage should be available to the public."

By Cheryl Miller, THE RECORDER

November 13, 2018


California regulators are refusing to disclose details about the insurance Waymo has obtained to begin testing autonomous vehicles with no backup drivers on Bay Area roads.

In a copy of Waymo’s testing program application, obtained by The Recorder through a public records request, the Department of Motor Vehicles redacted information about which companies have insured Waymo’s fleet of 39 Chrysler Pacifica minivans and how much those policies will pay out for potential injuries to the public, property damage and workers’ compensation claims.

The application does say insurance policies are valid through June 1, 2019. But a section labeled “additional information” about general liability and property coverage is shielded from public view.

A DMV spokesman could not immediately say why those portions of the 102-page report were redacted.

Emily Bisnett, a DMV lawyer, said the agency is not releasing information that Waymo, an Alphabet Inc. subsidiary, identified as trade secrets. A Waymo representative was not immediately reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s not at all clear to me why this was redacted,” said John Simpson, the privacy and technology project director at Consumer Watchdog. “I do think the policy limits and information about coverage should be available to the public.”

Based on the application, the DMV on Oct. 30 issued Waymo the first-ever permit to test truly driverless vehicles on public roads within the cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Sunnyvale. Company officials said the first passengers will be Waymo employees and public volunteer riders, like those in an Arizona program, will be added eventually.

The permit approval process requires Waymo and other autonomous vehicles companies to certify that they’ve met a list of requirements, including obtaining insurance or a bond equal to $5 million, notifying cities and counties of plans to test in their jurisdictions and training remote operators on the technology being tested. The application includes a page of 12 “acknowledgements” initialed by Shaun Stewart, Waymo’s chief business development officer.

The regulations allow permit applicants to self-certify that they’ve met many of the state’s safety requirements. Much of Waymo’s application includes brochurelike material touting the benefits of driverless cars but not many specifics about how the technology will work.

“When you or I got a driver’s license, your dad or your mom didn’t go into the DMV and say ‘I certify that I taught my son or daughter how to drive, give them a license,’” Simpson said. “That’s akin to what’s happening here with Waymo.”

When the DMV issued Waymo’s license, the agency’s director, Jean Shiomoto, said the state had been “working toward this milestone for several years, and we will continue to keep the public’s safety in mind as this technology evolves.”

Waymo and all other permit-holders are required to publicly report any collisions and to submit an annual report detailing how many times the autonomous-driving system disengaged.

Two highly publicized crashes involving autonomous vehicles were quickly settled. The family of an Arizona woman struck and killed by an Uber vehicle while crossing a road at night settled its lawsuit just weeks after the accident. And in June, General Motors and a motorcyclist reached an out-of-court agreement stemming from a December 2017 crash involving an autonomous Chevy Bolt in San Francisco. Terms in both settlements were not disclosed.

“I think these companies are so litigation-averse that they will reveal details but only in confidential circumstances,” said James McPherson, a San Francisco attorney who founded the San Francisco consulting company SafeSelfDrive Inc.