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April 12, 2021

Why I Ride with Waymo: Barb

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Editor’s Note: In 2017, Waymo joined forces with a diverse group of organizations to create Let's Talk Autonomous Driving -- the world's first public education campaign to increase education and understanding around autonomous driving technology. In this Why I Ride with Waymo, we’ll hear from Barb Hoffman, who is a former executive director of our partner Red Means Stop, a traffic advocate organization dedicated to increasing awareness about the dangers and consequences of red light running.

Hi there, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi, I’m Barb. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma for college; then married and had two children. We moved to Mesa, Arizona in 1991 where I later received my B.S. in marketing from Arizona State University and worked there for almost 23 years.

In 2004, my 14-year-old son, Michael, was hit and killed by a red-light runner in Mesa. The man who killed my son was only given a red-light running ticket, but no further punishment. I was an angry mom. I began researching laws that could punish my son’s killer when I came across the Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance and gave them a call. I started as a volunteer with the organization and served as the executive director for five years.

That must have been extremely difficult. Is that what also spurred your interest in autonomous driving technology?

Working in traffic safety since 2004, I’ve found, and data verifies, that most car crashes are caused by human error. So, when I heard that autonomously driven cars were coming to the Phoenix area, I wanted in. With autonomous driving technology, I see a world where lives will be saved on our now-deadly roadways.

Do you use Waymo One yourself?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had multiple events in Chandler, Arizona, every week, so I parked my car at a Park and Ride and hailed a car from Waymo One. I took it to my weekly breakfast meetings, then to the mall and my Toastmasters meeting, and oftentimes to meet with friends for lunch. During the COVID-19 pandemic, and since I retired, I haven’t had the chance to ride as much. Once I get a vaccination, I plan on riding again and taking some friends for a ride.

While I have always been a nervous passenger when I have no control of the human driver, I have no fear while riding with Waymo and have found comfort with the Waymo Driver in control.

That’s great to hear. You’ve mentioned how autonomous driving technology could help make our roads safer for everyone, but how has it changed your life personally as a driver?

I really don’t enjoy driving. I see so many aggressive, distracted, selfish drivers every day, and I don’t want to be the cause of a crash that takes another person’s life. Everyone is just one distraction away from possibly doing just that.

What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you while riding in Waymo One?

One time, I was pulling up to my destination, where a man was painting the fire zone curb. The Waymo Driver pulled up behind him and waited, with the goal of dropping me off just beyond where the man was working. I called Rider Support just to confirm if the car was waiting for the man to move before it pulled over at my spot, and it was. It was pretty funny, and I understood the safety aspect to the dilemma. I still chuckle when I think of that day. No harm was done, and I am glad the car put safety first for both me and the painter.

How do you think the dialogue around autonomous driving technology will change in the future?

As time goes on, I believe people will have a more positive outlook toward autonomously driven cars. When people realize how much more they can get done when letting the car drive, they will come around to the positive aspects of autonomous driving technology. Also, when statistics show the safety aspects, lower fatalities, and higher productivity, autonomous driving technology will be the norm and positively accepted.