‘AVs Could Drive Road Deaths to Zero’: Governors Highway Safety Association Leaders Ride With Waymo

By Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving,

Across every US state and territory, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) serves as a valuable source of insights and advocacy to empower communities and drive road deaths to zero.

The nation’s road fatalities remain at unprecedented levels and exceeded 40,000 in 2021 for the first time since 2007., and GHSA was one of the first organizations to point out a spiraling epidemic of speeding and unsafe driving during the pandemic. GHSA is working to assess and reduce the largest and most widespread causes of traffic crashes: the human choices to drive drunk, not wear seatbelts, and speed.

GHSA Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Adkins, who has been with GHSA for 22 years, says he would love to see the nation achieve zero traffic deaths and put his nonprofit out of business.

“This has been going on for too long,” Adkins says. “Many of our friends and neighbors are losing their lives in traffic crashes and it’s completely preventable.”

To raise awareness, GHSA is partnering with Waymo to build acceptance and awareness about all potential road safety solutions, including autonomous driving, that could save lives.

Autonomous driving technology like Waymo’s can be designed to follow road rules like speed limits, stay constantly vigilant, and identify and anticipate what other road users may do to make the safest driving decision.

“We’re really excited about autonomous and semi-autonomous technology because it will literally prevent crashes,” Adkins says.

Russ Martin, senior director of policy and government relations at GHSA, says the partnership with Waymo is part of a push to work across industries, fields, and practice areas to consider the entire road system and leverage every tool and resource available to eliminate road deaths.

“Autonomous vehicle technology promises to save lives because it can remove a lot of human error, a lot of human risk out of the driving equation,” Martin says. “The more that we can get this technology on different kinds of vehicles, hopefully the more kinds of crashes that we can prevent.”

Martin and Adkins recently rode in a Waymo One autonomously driven vehicle and a Waymo Via autonomously driven semi-truck.

“You can tell that the technology’s been incrementally improved over time,” shares Martin, who last took a ride in an autonomous vehicle nearly a decade prior.

For Adkins, it was his first time riding in an autonomously driven vehicle and truck.

“After I got over the excitement of being in the vehicle, I was thinking about the perspective of some of the other vehicles on the road and how predictable the Waymo driver is,” Adkins shares. “As another driver on the road, that predictability keeps us all safe.”

In addition to enhancing road safety, Adkins says, the technology could benefit those who cannot drive, such as those who are blind.

“Too many people are excluded because they can’t drive somewhere, and this is going to be one of those tools that’s going to make people’s lives better,” Adkins says.

Adkins says he believes autonomous driving technology even could have benefited his own mother, who had to move into a retirement home. Adkins believes she could have stayed independent and in her own home longer if she had had the option of calling an autonomous ride when she could no longer drive.

“Transportation is freedom, whether it’s bicycling, walking, driving a car, transportation’s freedom,” Adkins emphasizes. “And so we’re excited about this from a safety standpoint, from a mobility standpoint and just general quality of life.”

Martin shares that he enjoyed speaking to the Waymo Via autonomous truck operator – a veteran truck driver – accompanying the truck as it drove.

“He spoke about how the truck’s sensor technology was able to pick up things at night, that he as the operator just didn’t see because it was beyond the headlines,” Martin recalls. “That kind of safety value seems very important.

Martin says he hopes individual people will feel empowered to do something about road safety so that it is addressed from every possible angle.

“Whether it’s buckling up on every trip, controlling your speed, putting your phone down in the car, and creating a stronger safety culture, everyday people can do that,” Martin says.

Adkins says the work to bring road fatalities is within reach, provided strategies account for all available tools, including autonomous driving technology.

“Whether we’re drivers, whether we’re riding a bike, whether we’re walking, it impacts everyone, but it does impact people of color disproportionately for a host of reasons,” Adkins says. “And so we really have to do better. This is an outrage and it’s completely preventable.”

Adkins underscores that the GHSA-Waymo partnership represents a model for addressing road safety across spheres.

“If we’re truly going to eliminate traffic deaths, it’s not going to be solely because of the Governors Highway Safety Association, or solely because of Waymo,” Adkins says. “We have to work together.”