How Safe Are Google’s Self-Driving Cars?

A new report sheds light on the number of accidents Google's self-driving cars have been involved in.

Just how safe are Google‘s self-driving cars? Well, we’ll let you be the judge.

Google says its group of 20 autonomous cars have been involved in 11 accidents since hitting the roads in 2009. All the accidents, which were minor and did not cause injury, were caused by humans driving other cars.

Google says none of the accidents were caused by its self-driving cars.

Google’s self-driving cars have gone nearly 1 million miles autonomously in six years. Add in manual driving miles and Google’s self-driving cars have traveled about 1.7 million miles. So, how does that accident rate compare to us humans?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the national rate for reported “property-damage-only crashes” is about 0.3 for every 100,000 miles. Google’s 11 accidents over 1.7 million miles comes out to 0.6 per 100,000 miles. However, according to Google, up to five million minor accidents each year aren’t reported.

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“Even when our software and sensors can detect a sticky situation and take action earlier and faster than an alert human driver, sometimes we won’t be able to overcome the realities of speed and distance; sometimes we’ll get hit just waiting for a light to change,” Chris Urmson, director of Google’s driverless cars program, writes. “And that’s important context for communities with self-driving cars on their streets; although we wish we could avoid all accidents, some will be unavoidable.”

Here’s a breakdown of the accidents:

  • 7 accidents involved Google cars being rear-ended
  • 2 were side-swipes
  • 1 accident involved a car rolling through a stop sign
  • 8 of the accidents occurred on city streets

Raj Rajkumar, a pioneer of autonomous driving technology with Carnegie Mellon University, tells The Guardian, however, that the priority for self-driving cars thus far has been to avoid major accidents, not fender benders.

Google released these details after The Associated Press reported that Google had notified California of three collisions involving its self-driving cars since September.

The NHTSA says 94% of accidents are caused by human errors, and most accidents occur at intersections. Urmson writes that Google has identified “patterns of driver behavior (lane-drifting, red-light running) that are leading indicators of significant collisions.”

“A self-driving car has people beat on this dimension of road safety,” Urmson writes. “With 360 degree visibility and 100% attention out in all directions at all times; our newest sensors can keep track of other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians out to a distance of nearly two football fields.”

Does this information change your opinion on self-driving cars? Take our survey below.

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About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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