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Self-Driving Cars Continue to Get into Accidents in California

By on May 18, 2015

Self-driving cars may be touted as the safer alternatives to traditional vehicles, where human error can cause accidents; however, recent statistics show that the technology has a way to go before being able to objectively satisfy those claims. Case in point – 4 of the 48 autonomous cars owned by Google in California have been in accidents since last September. While the company contends that none of the accidents were the fault of the driverless vehicles, the statistics definitely show a trend that the cars are not yet as safe and smart as we want to believe.

The good news for the future is that in the 4 accidents involving driverless cars, nobody was injured, and all 4 incidents occurred at speeds lower than 10 miles per hour. So, even though the cars have had a less-than-perfect record in recent months, none of their failures can be considered anything close to catastrophic, dangerous issues.

However, in any case, the trend of autonomous vehicle accidents is something that needs to be minimized or erased completely for many people to be confident in the promise of the technology.

Equipped with all sorts of sensors and GPS technology, autonomous cars are supposed to be pretty much accident-averse, as they can locate themselves and other cars on the road with a precision that most human-powered cars simply cannot. By sensing speed, location, distance from other vehicles, and so forth, the chances of an autonomous car getting into an accident are supposed to be incredibly low.

So how have these “smart” vehicles been getting into crashes? Well, in 2 of the recent accidents, humans were actually driving the vehicles. In California, driverless cars are still mandated to have a human behind the wheel, just in case. So, 2 of the accidents really don’t have much to do with the driverless technology. In the other 2 cases, details aren’t clear, but Google stated that not 1 of the accidents was the fault of the self-driving car, chalking every incident up to human error, whether by one of Google’s drivers or another motorist.

In any case, the accident rate for Google’s vehicles is still relatively low, with an accident occurring at a rate of 0.6 times per 100,000 miles, not too far above the national average of 0.3 per 100,000 miles. Of course, the rate of the average only factors in accidents that are reported, so the real number is probably considerably higher – and Google has no such luxury of choosing which accidents to report or omit.

Whether this is much ado about nothing or an issue Google needs to fix is essentially a matter of opinion, but one fact remains true – in order for autonomous cars to be considered the safest vehicles on the road, this accident rate will need to drop, period.

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