Under public pressure regarding transparency, Google announced on Monday that its self-driving cars have been involved 11 minor traffic accidents since testing began back in 2009, but all were caused by the other driver. Given the Associated Press had published an article noting that Google had reported three collisions involving its self-driving cars since September of last year when reporting accidents became a legal requirement in California for a permit to test the vehicles on public roads, the tech titan felt obligated to respond.
Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving car project, penned a blog post on Monday noting that all 11 accidents involving the autopiloted vehicles were quite minor (“light damage, no injuries”). Moreover, the 11 accidents occurred in more than 1.7 million miles of testing, with around a million miles logged in self-driving mode.
Statement from the director of Google’s self-driving car project
“Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” Urmson pointed out in his post.
Urmson also noted: “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. 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.”
More on accidents with self-driving cars
The only other firm to report an accident with a self-driving car was auto parts supplier Delphi (broadsided while waiting to make a left turn — not at fault). California’s regulators confirmed that four accidents had been reported since September, but would not provide any details about the nature or severity of the accidents, noting that a state law made collision reports confidential.
An AP source with knowledge of the reports, however, reported that two of the Google accidents occurred while the cars were in self-driving mode. In the other accidents, the person required by law to be behind the wheel was controlling the vehicle.
The source, who wished to remain anonymous, noted that all of the crashes occurred at low speeds (below 10 mph).
In its blog post, Google noted seven of the accidents involved the vehicle being rear-ended. Another two of the self-driving car accidents were side-swipes, and one involved another car not stopping fully at a stop sign. Also of note, eight of the 11 accidents happened on city streets.