Google’s Self-Driving Car: 1.7 Million Miles and 11 Minor Accidents in 6 Years

It’s been six years since the first self-driving car designed by Google hit the road. In order for the autonomous cars to keep driving on public roads, it’s been decided in September last year, that all accidents involving the vehicles will be reported. With the decision, first numbers involving the crashes have leaked. The director of the program has now explained what researchers have discovered so far.
One of Google's self-driving cars 1 photo
Photo: Backchannel
It was initially reported that four self-driving cars of the 48 vehicles licensed to operate on California roads have gotten into minor fender-benders since the state began issuing permits in September. The leaked numbers were neither confirmed nor denied at first. After the rumor the self-driving cars are not yet safe enough to prevent accidents, director of Google’s self-driving car program Chris Urmson has released a first conclusion on what the actual numbers are.

Before taking a closer look at the figures, we need to acknowledge that the California state has a legal restriction when it comes to releasing details from accident reports. This means we only have Google’s word (sort of speak) on these primary conclusions.

Urmson starts by reminding everybody the Google self-driving car program is currently still in a researching phase, it’s learning about the way drivers act in traffic. Thousands of miles are being driven on a daily basis in order to determine how the safety features of the autonomous vehicles can be enhanced. The company’s boss also admits accidents did happen during the course of these six years, but none of them were major crashes, and most importantly none of them were caused by the autonomous cars.

Over 20 self-driving cars covered 1.7 million miles so far

During this time, the fleet of 20+ self-driving vehicles and the team of safety drivers have covered 1.7 million miles (both manually and autonomously, with the cars self-driving nearly one million of those miles). The Google chief claims their drivers are currently averaging around 10,000 self-driven miles a week, which is little less than what an average American motorist does. Moreover, most of these distances were traversed on city streets.

As to the car accidents, according to Google’s numbers solely, over the six years since they started the project, there were 11 minor accidents (light damages, no injuries) and “not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident”.

Rear-end crashes are the most frequent accidents in America, and often there’s little the driver in front can do to avoid getting hit; we’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway. We’ve also been side-swiped a couple of times and hit by a car rolling through a stop sign,” Chris Urmson explains in the statement.
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