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Top safety official at Waymo self-driving unit stepping down

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Waymo self-driving unit said on Thursday that its chief safety officer, Debbie Hersman, was stepping down but would remain as a consultant to the company.

FILE PHOTO: Three of the fleet of 600 Waymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid self-driving vehicles are parked and displayed during a demonstration in Chandler, Arizona, November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Caitlin O’Hara

Hersman, the former chair of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), joined the company in 2019 to oversee its product safety program.

“We can confirm that Debbie has decided to return to her family home on the east coast and will continue on as a consultant to Waymo,” the company said in a statement.

Waymo said Tracy Murrell, Waymo’s head of safety and sustainability, would be the company’s interim head of safety. The company said a search was under way for its next head of safety.

A Waymo spokeswoman praised Hersman for “leading the growth of the safety team, establishing Waymo’s safety board as we responsibly progress our technology, and championing Waymo’s culture of safety.”

Founded 11 years ago as a small project inside Google, Waymo is now widely considered the leader in developing self-driving technology. But Waymo and its principal rivals are still years away from building large-scale businesses around that technology, analysts believe.

Waymo has said it plans to offer a range of self-driving transportation services, from its Waymo One ride-hailing business in Phoenix through the new Waymo Via logistics business that would bundle local and long-haul delivery.

Self-driving car safety has drawn additional scrutiny after the first-ever fatal crash of a self-driving car in March 2018 that occurred when an Uber Technologies Inc vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

The NTSB last year faulted Uber for inadequate attention to safety and decisions in the company’s autonomous vehicle development.

Last week, Waymo said it raised an additional $750 million in its first external investment round, bringing the total funding to $3 billion.

Hersman’s departure was reported earlier by The Information.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney

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