In a bid to prove that its robot drivers are safer than humans, Waymo simulated dozens of real-world fatal crashes that took place in Arizona over nearly a decade. The Google spinoff discovered that replacing either vehicle in a two-car crash with its robot-guided minivans would nearly eliminate all deaths, according to data it publicized today.

The results are meant to bolster Waymo’s case that autonomous vehicles operate more safely than human-driven ones. With millions of people dying in auto crashes globally every year, AV operators are increasingly leaning on this safety case to spur regulators to pass legislation allowing more fully autonomous vehicles on the road.

But that case has been difficult to prove out, thanks to the very limited number of autonomous vehicles operating on public roads today. To provide more statistical support for its argument, Waymo has turned to counterfactuals, or “what if?” scenarios, meant to showcase how its robot vehicles would react in real-world situations.

Last year, the company published 6.1 million miles of driving data in 2019 and 2020, including 18 crashes and 29 near-miss collisions. In those incidents where its safety operators took control of the vehicle to avoid a crash, Waymo’s engineers simulated what would have happened had the driver not disengaged the vehicle’s self-driving system to generate a counterfactual. The company has also made some of its data available to academic researchers.

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