Self-driving cars have been a major up-and-coming technology for more than half a decade. In the past year Google has at last secured permits allowing them to test their latest self-driving models on public roads. As a part of this next phase of development, the company is required to disclose all accidents involving the self-driving cars. According to the most recent report released by the company, there have been three accidents since the new reporting rules went into effect in September, and eleven since the early days of the technology in 2009.
Google accompanied the report with a statement describing all of the accidents as “minor, no injuries,” as well as claiming that the self-driving car was not the cause of any of the eleven accidents. However, the current reporting system does not require any information other than the fact that an accident occurred, so industry watchdogs and the public have only the company’s word that none of the accidents was caused by a self-driving car. Consumer advocacy groups are troubled by the lack of transparency in the development of a technology with such wide implications for our everyday lives.
Regardless of the specific circumstances, these accidents are worrying for a company that is trying to promote the self-driving car as a safer alternative to current driving practices. The cars have driven about 1.7 million miles in accumulating their 11 accidents, which works out to roughly twice the current rate of reported “property-damage-only crashes.” However, company representatives claim that those numbers are skewed because millions of minor accidents go unreported every year, whereas Google is required to disclose all of theirs.
The latest advancement in this new technology will hit the streets this summer, as Google debuts a small, two-passenger vehicle that may finally achieve the company’s stated goal of a car that handles the full burden of driving. Although the testing will be limited by a 24 mile per hour speed cap, the new Google Cars will be unprecedented in having no steering wheel or pedals. Such an ambitious move forward makes it all the more important that the self-driving technology be proven safe, as occupants will be unable to take over control of the vehicle if something goes wrong.
The introduction of these new vehicles seems like a major step forward, but even industry proponents caution that there is still a long way to go. Current self-driving cars continue to struggle at recognizing and responding to unusual situations, such as a fallen cyclist. Nevertheless, the first car without a steering wheel will be on the roads of California this summer, rolling into the future at a stately 24 mph.
About The Author: Jamie Kessel is a personal injury attorney practicing with the law firm of Allen & Allen at their office in Short Pump. His practice is focused in the areas of car accidents, product liability, premises liability, and distracted driving accidents. He was named one of the 2014 Legal Elite by Virginia Business Magazine and has been honored as one of the “Top 50 Attorneys in Richmond” and “Top 100 Attorneys in Virginia” by Virginia Super Lawyers.