California Robot Car Disengagement Reports Show Technology Not Ready for Safe Deployment Without Human Driver Behind Steering Wheel to Take Control, Consumer Watchdog Says

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Disengagement reports from companies testing robot cars on California’s public roads released today by the Department of Motor Vehicles show the technology is not ready to be deployed without human drivers behind a steering wheel who can take control when the self-driving technology fails, Consumer Watchdog said.

For example, Waymo said its robot technology failed 124 times in 635,868 miles.  Delphi reported 178 failures in 3,125 miles.

Eleven companies with permits to test robot cars in the state were required to file this year.  Twenty-one companies hold permits for testing.

“Despite the self-serving hype of the manufacturers, robot technology simply isn’t ready for our roads without hands-on, behind-the-wheel engagement and supervision by a human driver,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director.

The report from Waymo, the new name of Google’s autonomous vehicle unit, demonstrates the shortcomings, Consumer Watchdog said. Its report showed the robot cars had problems dealing with others on the road, construction zones, and correctly perceiving their surroundings. In the past the company has said, for example, that its robot cars had difficulty correctly perceiving overhanging branches. There were also software glitches and times when the test driver took over because the robot car made an unwanted maneuver.

Waymo/Google’s robot cars logged 635,868 miles on California’s roads in self-driving mode during the 2016 reporting period, substantially more than any other company testing in the state.  That compares with 414,331 miles in the 2015 reporting period. Waymo/Google said disengagements declined from 341 to 124, or 0.8 per 1,000 miles compared to 0.2 per 1,000 miles. Most of the disengagements – 112 – came on local streets, not highways or freeways.

Delphi reported its two test robot cars drove 3,125 miles in self-driving mode and had 178 disengagements.  Reasons given for disengaging included: construction zones, lane changing in heavy traffic, emergency vehicles, poor lane markings, pedestrians, cyclists, failure to detect a traffic light and unexpected behavior from another driver.

“While there has been an improvement,” said Simpson, “the reports show the robots simply aren’t ready to be released to roam our roads without human drivers.”

Consumer Watchdog praised the Department of Motor Vehicles for requiring and posting the disengagement reports.   

“It’s the only way the public can find out what’s happening when companies use public roads as their laboratories,” said Simpson.  He added that test robot cars involved in an accident should be required to make public video and technical data about the incident.

View the disengagement reports here: 

Other companies with permits to test robot drove far fewer miles than Google/Waymo.  Two companies with permits – Honda and Volkswagen — that would have been required to report, had they tested, said they did not.   Here are the reports from nine other companies, besides Waymo/Google and Delphi cited above:

Ford reported three disengagements in 590 miles. 

BMW reported 1 disengagement in 638 miles.

GM Cruise reported its robot cars drove 10,014.94 miles and had 284 disengagements.

Mercedes-Benz reported 336 disengagements in 673 miles.

Nissan reported 28 disengagements in 4,099 miles.

Tesla said it tested four vehicles in October and November totaling 550 miles in self-driving mode, its report listed 182 disengagements.

Bosch said its cars drove 980.8 miles and had 1,442 disengagements.

See a list of the 21 companies who have received permits from the DMV to test their robot cars on California roads here:


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