“In the six years of our project, we’ve been involved in 12 minor accidents during more than 1.8 million miles of autonomous and manual driving combined,” Google wrote recently in its Self-Driving Car Project’s monthly report. “Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.”
Although many of those 1.8 million miles were on test tracks, the numbers are still pretty impressive. Most people were expecting that robot-driven vehicles armed with collision-avoidance technology and schooled in every single potential traffic law would be excellent drivers. After all, they never suffer from distraction, and they never get drunk.
Only 12 accidents over 1.8 million miles driven, however, is exceptional. Moreover, considering the flood of vehicle safety recalls over the past few years, a well-manufactured, safe vehicle may be harder to find than we might like.
Despite other manufacturers’ troubles, Google believes its autonomous vehicles could play an outsized role in reducing traffic accidents. Citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the company says that fully 94 percent of minor accidents in the U.S. are caused by human factors. If more people relied on self-driving cars for transit, fewer human factors would be at play.
The vehicles aren’t available to the public yet, but real-world tests are underway in the communities surrounding Google headquarters. Prototypes of several of the vehicles have been driving around on their own – although always with a backup driver on board. As of June, Google says the cars are averaging 10,000 miles a week, on public streets, in autonomous mode.
Will there continue to be accidents? Undoubtedly. Will there be accidents once Google vehicles are available to the public? Almost certainly. Will Google be liable for any of those accidents?
That’s the question. They’re building a body of evidence to show that any future collisions will not be Google’s fault, but it’s fair to say “real world” experiences may differ. After all, Google cars are currently operating under exceptionally favorable circumstances, on local streets with a trained, attentive driver as co-pilot. How well that experience transfers to the rest of is still open to inquiry.
Source: The Atlantic, “When Google Self-Driving Cars Are in Accidents, Humans Are to Blame,” Adrienne LaFrance, June 8, 2015