Consumer Group Wants Investigations For All Self-Driving Car Crashes

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A leading consumer group called upon California officials Thursday to strengthen oversight of crashes involving self-driving cars. Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit organization based in the state, asked California's Department of Motor Vehicles to amend regulations to require police to investigate any crashes involving autonomous cars on public roads. Currently, regulations only mandate that autonomous car crashes be reported to the DMV, not necessarily investigated. Further investigations are at the discretion of law enforcement.

So far, autonomous technology has not been faulted in any of the 15 known crashes involving autonomobiles on California roads. They've all been caused by humans. Many have been fender-benders, such as the most recent accident involving a Google car July 1, seen in the video above and not probed further. John Simpson, project director at Consumer Watchdog, said that's not good enough.

"Under the current reporting system, the DMV – and the public – must rely entirely on the Internet giant's version of what happened," he said. "There is no independent third-party verification. 'Trust us, we're Google' simply isn't good enough when our public highways become the company's laboratory." Simpson said the DMV should further require that data and video gathered by a self-driving car be provided to the investigating police department.

This isn't Consumer Watchdog's first call for more transparency with Google or other autonomous-car companies. Earlier this year, the organization successfully lobbied the California DMV to release reports from accidents involving autonomous cars. Previously, the DMV considered the entire reports private. Now the DMV releases all information with the exception of information that identifies the drivers involved. At the same time, Google responded to Consumer Watchdog's criticism by creating a monthly newsletter that contains much of the same crash information and provides other insights into its autonomous program.

"Each month we provide detailed reports on all collisions that we've been involved in; they're available on our website here for anyone to review," a Google spokesperson said. "… These summaries are also what we submit to the California DMV each time there's a collision, and we're happy to provide more information to them if they request it."

Although autonomous technology hasn't been faulted in a crash thus far, there's increased scrutiny of self-driving cars as their numbers grow and grand predictions for an autonomous future proliferate. Nine companies currently test and operate 78 autonomobiles on California roads, and there's interest in understanding how human drivers interact with self-driving cars on roadways.

In addition to requesting mandatory investigations, Consumer Watchdog has also asked the DMV to release reports on incidents in which autonomous technology disengages and human intervention is required. The first disengagement reports are due Jan. 1, 2016.

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