Google’s driverless cars keep getting into fender-benders, and the company keeps stressing that the crashes aren’t a result of a computer glitch or rogue robotics system. Google’s cars are getting dinged for the same reason regular cars do: because people who drive make mistakes.
The most recent incident happened on July 1, when a driver rear-ended one of Google’s cars at stop light.
Google releases information on every crash its driverless fleet gets into, so the company put out this video showing how things went down:
This is the first time a driverless car has been in a crash with injuries, as the AP reports:
The three Google employees on board complained of minor whiplash, were checked out at a hospital and cleared to go back to work following the July 1 collision, Google said. The driver of the other car also complained of neck and back pain.
Google’s driverless cars have been in around a dozen crashes since testing. All have been minor, and Google says that none of them were caused by its cars. Google’s Chris Urmson used this crash as an opportunity to reiterate how error-prone regular people are while driving, and how reliable Google’s driverless cars are in comparison:
As you can see from the video above, our braking was normal and natural, and the vehicle behind us had plenty of stopping distance — but it never decelerated. This certainly seems like the driver was distracted and not watching the road ahead.
Google has been advocating for its utopian vision of roads filled with error-immune AI chauffeur-pods by emphasizing the fallibility of people. This is an effective selling point, but a bad one. Yeah, driving is dangerous, in large part because people are not good at driving. But at least for the next decades, driverless cars will mostly share the road with cars steered by clumsy, normal people, and it’d be more interesting if Google had someone explain how it is programming its cars to react to other drivers’ mistakes, rather than harping on the fact that they get made.
The person who rear-ended the Google car would’ve rear-ended any car that happened to be in front of it. Urmson’s not wrong about people sucking at driving, but this incident is a reminder that Google’s cars are still vulnerable to most of the same hazards as the ones with humans behind the wheel.