Watch Waymo's Self-Driving Cars Navigate a Freeway

The autonomous ride-hailing company gave CNET an exclusive look at its latest endeavor.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET analyzing tech trends while also writing news, reviews and commentaries across mobile, streaming and online culture. Credentials
  • Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has three times been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Abrar Al-Heeti
2 min read

Despite living in the tech hub that is the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm still in awe each time I see a Waymo car drive by without anyone in the driver's seat. The self-driving arm of Google's parent company Alphabet has been rolling out its autonomous vehicles in parts of California and Arizona, including around busy downtowns and, now, on freeways in Phoenix.

Those freeway rides are currently being tested with employees. Waymo gave CNET an exclusive peek of its cars on the (bigger) road, which you can check out in the video above. According to the company, the vehicles can navigate on- and off-ramps and change lanes without a driver behind the wheel. 

Read more: Waymo's New Feature Scans for Cyclists, Other Cars to Prevent Accidents

People in San Francisco, Phoenix and Los Angeles can use the Waymo One app to hail a ride (just not on freeways) any time, with Austin next in line. I took a ride in a Waymo around San Francisco last May, and it did an impressive job navigating various city blocks and four-way stops. And as unsettling as it was to see a steering wheel turn without anyone behind it, it was otherwise a very comfortable and secure experience. 

Waymo says it's refining the freeway driving feature to ensure it meets customer expectations -- especially since once you're on board, there's no driver to give feedback to.

"Just like we learned in San Francisco that people prefer a slightly slower pace on hilly roads, we're now fine-tuning the Waymo Driver's behavior on freeways, such as when transitioning from off-ramps to surface streets," the company told CNET. That includes mastering acceleration and deceleration and avoiding any debris on the road.

It's tweaking other aspects of the rider experience, too. Noting the quietness of electric vehicles like the Jaguar I-Paces Waymo operates, the company acknowledges how this can make "other noises more noticeable, especially at higher speeds." To create a "more tranquil rider experience," the company is incorporating more ambient music, which riders can turn on or off. 

Waymo scaled back its autonomous trucking plans last year, saying it was doubling down on Waymo One instead. The company noted in a blog that its "ongoing investment in advancing Waymo Driver capabilities, especially on freeway, will directly translate to trucking."

The journey to bring self-driving cars to fruition hasn't been without bumps in the road. In February, a Waymo car collided with a biker in San Francisco, causing the cyclist minor injuries. And Waymo recalled the software powering its cars earlier this year after two of its vehicles hit a towed pickup truck in Phoenix. The company said there weren't any riders onboard its fleet, and there were "no injuries and minor vehicle damage." Waymo updated its software to address the issue. 

Competitor Cruise was suspended indefinitely in California after one of its driverless cars hit a jaywalking pedestrian.