Google has released a comprehensive report on all the accidents its self-driving cars have been involved in since 2009, and the results suggest that robots are better drivers than most everyone.
During the combined 1.8 million miles these cars were on the road, Google’s cars got into only 12 minor accidents, none of which were caused by a robot.
In fact, more accidents were caused by Google employees taking control of the car than by the autonomous cars themselves.
In August 2011, a Google employee took one of the cars for a spin in manual (human-driven) mode to run an errand, and promptly rear-ended a vehicle that was stopped in traffic. Google says “no injuries were reported at the scene,” but what they mean is human injuries. The Google car did sustain some damage, which seems terribly unfair given that it wasn’t even the one driving.
Most of the other accidents were caused by other drivers, with rear-ending being the most common. And the accident report reads like a novelization of every obnoxious and dangerous driver you’ve ever seen on the road. One driver rear-ended an autonomous car when it was stopped at a traffic light. Another struck the side of a Google car while veering into its lane on a highway. And a third rolled the stop sign at El Camino and View street and plowed into a self-driving car’s right side.
Even before this report came out, it seemed some Americans had begun to warm to the idea of self-driving cars taking over the road. In a recent study, 27% of those polled said they would support laws restricting human driving if self-driving cars might be safer. With these new statistics from Google, it seems like they are on their way.
The auto industry is taking note. Analyst Tavis McCourt wrote that a recent conference he attended was the first “where participants in the auto industry finally have come to the conclusion that Google and Apple are not their friends, but ultimately will likely be competitive enemies.”
Google’s report, which will be the first of a monthly series, also outlined some of the ways its cars are taking into account the peculiarities of the real world, one of the areas that makes many uneasy about self-driving cars. Google says its cars understand that emergency vehicles behave in different ways than normal drivers do. They cited an example where a self-driving car remained stopped at a stoplight when a light turn green because it had detected an ambulance approaching from the right.