The potential and promise of vehicles that drive themselves is hard to dispute. Autonomous cars and trucks are being tested and perfected as we speak. The investment made in this technology makes it likely that at least some form of it will be available to consumers sooner, rather than later. The testing, however, has not been without its problems. Accidents involving Google’s self-driving cars have been reported and have received significant attention. A closer look at these accidents is in order.
Google released a report recently concerning its autonomous vehicle project. The report discusses, in some detail, each of the accidents suffered by its autonomous vehicles since they hit the roads in 2009. Google reports a total of 12 such accidents, covering roughly 1.8 million miles driven. Those miles were not all machine-driven, however. They include miles driving manually by humans. The 12 accidents are instructive. In all of them, the accident was found to be the fault of a human driver.
In addition to the unsurprising fact that people were actually at fault in these accidents, it is important to note that the accidents were all minor. There are no fatal or catastrophic crashes where a computer-controlled car ran amuck. Even the accident reports demonstrate that computers are doing a far superior job of driving safely than humans.
Given the vast number of injuries and fatalities caused by traffic accidents each year, it is hard to underestimate the value of eliminating, or at least sharply reducing them. Thousands of lives could be saved and hundreds of thousands of lives improved each year if human error could be eliminated from driving.
Source: The Atlantic, “When Google Self-Driving Cars Are in Accidents, Humans Are to Blame,” by Adrienne LaFrance, 8 June 2015