As far as transportation goes, Waymo is one of the new kids on the block. But in its decade of existence — first as the Google Car project, then Waymo in 2016 — the company has literally put self-driving vehicles on the map.
Waymo rolled out its first commercial effort in the Phoenix area in late 2018, calling it "Waymo One." The name implies Waymo Two and Three, so the company expects to put its hardware-and-software "driver" into more vehicles in the coming years.
But there's a catch: according to the American Automobile Association, 71% of people surveyed have some fear about riding in an autonomous vehicle. This number contrasts with an alarming statistic: 37,000 people are killed in auto-related accidents annually in the US alone — and 94% are caused by some sort of driver error.
On Monday, Waymo announced that it would partner with AAA Northern California, Nevada, and Utah and several other organizations to undertake an education campaign to eradicate the confusion and fear around autonomous vehicles (Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with whom Waymo has already been working, as well as The National Safety Council and The Foundation for Blind Children also joined the effort).
AAA is over a century old, but it's keeping its mission relevant
It's called " Let's Talk Self-Driving," and Waymo said that it "aims to educate people about how self-driving technology can save lives and make our roads more inclusive by improving independence and creating new mobility options for everyone."
AAA has been at this for a while. "Over a century ago, AAA led America's transition from the horse-and-buggy to the motor car," AAA regional vice-president Ignacio Garcia said in a statement. "Our goal now is to again be the public's trusted advocate for self-driving cars, especially focused on safety." (AAA formed an autonomous-vehicle team two years ago.)
In an interview with Business Insider, Garcia added that the effort wouldn't just be about explaining the benefits of self-driving vehicles. He said that the partnership would strive to eradicate the lack of transparency on the status if autonomous technologies and educate the public about the limitations of the tech.
"The overall pace of change has accelerated," he said. "But we're doing what we've always done, since we were founded 118 years ago — to be the traffic-safety advocate for our membership."
The key is to work with young people
In this respect, it's important to start folks young, and that's what Waymo and AAA did when they brought elementary-school students from AAA 100-year-old School Safety Patrol program to a closed Waymo test facility to check out autonomous vehicles in action.
It was more than an illuminating field trip. "AAA has created a school safety lesson plan as a free downloadable resource that grade school teachers can use," Waymo said in a statement. "As part of that effort, AAA partnered with Waymo to develop a lesson-plan module about self-driving cars that encourages students to think about ways to make driving safer and how autonomous vehicles can reduce unsafe behavior such as texting and eating while driving."
AAA and Waymo hope that the program builds on the leadership skills that School Safety Patrolers already develop. Ultimately, the partnership could both encourage the public to understand the safety improvements of autonomy, as well as to approach self-driving with less trepidation.
"I spend a lot of time advocating for safety on the road because it's imperative that we create systems that help children to be safe," said Deborah Carlino, a AAA School Safety Patrol Advisor of the Year and an educator. " I think it's essential that little people be a part of these decisions just as much as adults. They get to see that they have a voice, and that's very exciting."