Self-Driving Cars Are Already Getting Into Accidents [Updated]

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Update 06/21: Google has emphasized that none of the accidents its cars were involved with were the fault of its self-driving vehicles, and has updated its recorded miles to nearly a million. With that information, the accident rate for self-driving cars looks less unsettling and a lot more reassuring.

Self-driving cars have been hailed as The Next Great Solution for Not Getting Killed, and autonomous vehicles could potentially drastically reduce accidents by minimizing opportunities for human error. Someday. As of now, 8% of the self-driving cars on the road in California have been in collisions.

Four out of the roughly 50 unmanned cars driving around California have been in accidents since receiving permits to test in September. Three of the cars were Lexus SUVs, part of Google’s self-driving car program, and one was a testing car from Delphi, another autonomous car maker.

Two accidents happened while the cars were in control; in the other two, the person who still must be behind the wheel was driving, a person familiar with the accident reports told The Associated Press.


So far, the accident rate looks high compared with regular old dumb cars, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out.

The national rate for reported “property-damage-only crashes” is about 0.3 per 100,000 miles driven, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In that context, Google’s three in about 140,000 miles may seem high.

Uh, yeah.

The concept of self-driving cars heralding an era of safer transportation only works if the cars can drive better than people. Now, none of these accidents were serious, and of course there will be kinks that need to be worked out while self-driving vehicles are in testing mode. And, as Google told reporters, the disparity between its crash record and the national average may be smaller than it looks, since lots of people don’t report minor collisions.


Still, 4 out of 50 cars getting into accidents is an unsettlingly high percentage, and it underscores how patchy automated car technology still is, especially when these futuristic vehicles are driving around our imperfect streets.

[Chicago Tribune]

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