Google’s self-driving cars have been rear-ended and side-swiped while navigating Bay Area roads and freeways, but it’s never been the autonomous car’s fault, the company’s chief of driverless cars said in a defense of the technology Monday.
Earlier on Monday, the Associated Press reported that there have been four accidents involving self-driving cars in California since September, when the state Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing permits to companies that want to test vehicles on public roads (which Google had already been doing for several years). Three of the accidents involved Lexus SUVs that Google outfitted with self-driving software, the AP said. A fourth involved a test vehicle operated by Delphi Automotive.
The DMV says the accident reports are confidential and so the agency is not publicly releasing them, to the chagrin of Google critics such as John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, who had filed a public records request a week ago seeking driverless car accident reports.
“Google appears to be keeping a big lid on what’s going on,” Simpson said Monday. “They should simply put out the reports they filed with the DMV.”
Rather than asking Californians to “just trust us,” publicly reporting accidents will “in the long-run enhance people’s trust in the technology as it develops,” Simpson said.
Without making any reference to the AP report, the head of Google’s self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, published an essay in Medium’s Backchannel on Monday boasting of Google’s record and revealing some more detail about the number of accidents and what caused them.
“Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” Urmson wrote.
In contrast, Urmson wrote that “our safety drivers routinely see people weaving in and out of their lanes; we’ve spotted people reading books, and even one playing a trumpet.”
Above: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt listened earlier this year to Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, discuss the two-seater prototype vehicle at the Google campus in Mountain View. (Karl Mondon/Staff)