Autonomous vehicles drove more than 9M miles in California in 2023

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Two Cruise robotaxis driving on the streets of San Francisco. | Source: Cruise.

Two Cruise autonomous vehicles driving on the streets of San Francisco. | Source: Cruise

Autonomous vehicle (AV) companies, with the proper permits, drove 9,068,861 test miles in autonomous mode from Dec. 2022 – Nov. 2023, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The organization recently released its annual disengagement reports. 

The DMV’s annual reports summarize when vehicles disengaged from autonomous mode during testing, based on the companies’ self-reported data. Of the over nine million miles recorded, 3,267,792 miles were completely driverless, and 5,801,069 were with a safety driver. In total, California saw an increase of about 3.3 million autonomous miles driven from the previous reporting period.

While the reports can provide insights to better understand the scale of autonomous vehicle (AV) testing in the state, they’re not a good indicator of how these companies’ operations compare to each other. The numbers are all self-reported and don’t include insights about what kind of driving these AVs are doing. For example, some companies are testing their vehicles on less dynamic public roads, so they run into fewer issues than a company testing in busy downtown areas. 

There are currently 38 companies with valid permits to test AVs with safety drivers. Six of them — Apollo, AutoX, Nuro, Waymo, WeRide, and Zoox — can test without safety drivers. Pegasus Technology Holdings failed to submit a disengagement report, and the DMV says it is suspending the company’s permit.

Autonomous vehicle disengagements in 2023

A disengagement occurs when a failure of the technology is detected or when the safety driver takes immediate control of the vehicle. The report includes the total number of disengagements for each company, the circumstances or testing conditions, the location, and the total miles traveled in autonomous mode on public roads for each permit holder. 

Disengagements can be a tricky metric to keep track of. Each company is left to determine what a disengagement is for them and reports accordingly. For example, safety drivers may take control of a vehicle in times when they think the AV system is failing, but simulations of the incident show the vehicle would have responded appropriately. In this case, some companies might report the disengagement, while others may choose not to. 

AV companies reported 6,570 disengagements in 2023, with three companies, AutoX, Cruise, and Mercedes-Benz, reporting none. It’s unclear why these companies reported no disengagements for the year, and it doesn’t necessarily mean their systems had no disengagements during the reporting period. If you’ve followed Cruise, for example, you’re well aware of its struggles.

Of the companies that did report disengagements, Zoox vehicles averaged the most miles driven per disengagement at 177,602 miles. Following Zoox is WeRide with 21,191 miles, and Waymo with 17,311 miles. It should be noted that of these three companies, Waymo has the largest and most varied service area, which could contribute to a larger number of disengagements. 

For the first time, AV companies reported how many disengagements came from a safety driver, how many came from the AV system itself, or both. Zoox, for example, reported only four disengagements, all coming from a safety driver. 

Waymo reported 191 disengagements from a safety driver and 21 from the AV system. Apple, which greatly ramped up its AV testing in 2023, reported 2,391 disengagements from a safety driver and 803 from the system.

Waymo, Cruise, Zoox have largest fleets, most miles

In total, there were 1,603 autonomous vehicles in operation in California during the 2023 reporting period. Around 76% of those vehicles were operated by three companies: Cruise with 510, Waymo with 438, and Zoox with 281. Cruise’s permits were suspended in October, a month before the recording period ended.

Despite Cruise having the most vehicles, Waymo covered the most distance in 2023. In total, Waymo vehicles traveled 4,858,890 miles. Of those, 3,669,962 miles were with a safety driver and 1,188,928 miles were driverless.

Cruise came in second. Its vehicles traveled 583,624 miles without a safety driver and had the most driverless miles at 2,064,728 miles. Zoox vehicles traveled 710,409 miles with a safety driver, and 11,263 without. 

With only 67 vehicles on the road, Apple greatly increased its miles driven in 2023. During the reporting period, its vehicles traveled 452,744 miles with a safety driver, an over 261% increase from the 125,096 miles it covered in 2022. Apple does not have a permit for driverless testing. 

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