California DMV Must Release Waymo’s Robot Car Insurance Details, Says Consumer Watchdog

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LOS ANGELES, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on the California Department of Motor Vehicles to release details of Waymo’s insurance coverage for the 39 driverless robot cars the former Google unit has just received permission to test in the state.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group added that the DMV’s self-certification approach to granting permits to allow testing of cars without drivers is inadequate to protect highway safety.     

California requires companies testing self-driving cars in California to have at least $5 million in insurance coverage or bonds.  Proof of Waymo’s insurance coverage is required as part of the testing permit application to the DMV, but the details were redacted after the company claimed they were “trade secrets.”

The redacted application shows Waymo has general liability and automobile liability coverage, but excludes key details including the terms and limits of the policies. For example, it is impossible to tell whether each of the 39 robot cars Waymo has been approved to test has $5 million in coverage for each accident, or if Waymo as a company has just $5 million total coverage for all accidents caused by its driverless robot cars. The application does not disclose what coverage limits will apply if more than one car is involved in a serious crash.  

“There’s no reason that how much insurance Waymo has or who is providing it should be considered a trade secret,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Director. “They are using our public roads as their private laboratory, making others on the roads human guinea pigs. The public has a right to know what will happen when someone gets hurt. What is Waymo trying to hide and why?”

Consumer Watchdog said the DMV’s reliance on allowing applicants to self-certify their cars are safe doesn’t adequately protect highway safety. The regulations allow permit applicants to assert that they’ve met the state’s safety requirements, without requiring them to demonstrate how they have done so, Consumer Watchdog said.

Waymo’s application includes a page of 12 such “acknowledgements.” For example, the group noted that an applicant is merely required to certify that the robot cars can operate without a driver in the vehicle and that the remote operators are properly trained.

“Self-certification is completely inadequate,” said Simpson. “When I got a driver’s license, my mom didn’t go into the DMV and say ‘I certify that I taught my son how to drive, give him a license,’” Simpson said. “That’s akin to what’s happening here with Waymo.”

Consumer Watchdog obtained Waymo’s application to test autonomous vehicles without backup safety drivers through a Public Records Act request.   Read Waymo’s application to test robot cars without a safety test driver as released by the DMV here.

“Ronald Reagan used to say ‘Trust, but verify,” said Simpson. “The DMV is asking us to simply trust Waymo and Google, but there is no reason we should.”

John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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