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Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

Posted June 26, 2015 11:39 AM by Jordan Perch

Google has been claiming that its self-driving cars are perfectly safe and do not present any threat to road safety, encouraged by the fact that they have not been involved in any major incident while logging over 1.7 million miles over the past few years. But, their accident-free reputation was recently called into question, with various media reports stating that there have been several incidents that Google had failed to make public.

Prompted by a report by The Associated Press claiming that the California Department of Motor Vehicles has been informed by Google that its self-driving cars have been involved in three collisions over the past nine months, the tech giant has revealed that a total of 11 "minor accidents" have been recorded since the company started testing its autonomous vehicles about six years ago.

Google was not legally required to report accidents involving its self-driving cars up until last September, which is why it didn't inform the state DMV or the public about the incidents that were eventually disclosed. But, while announcing that its autonomous cars have been in 11 accidents, Google was quick to dismiss any claims that they were caused by the cars, chalking them up to human error. Google said that eight of the 11 accidents occurred on city streets, and that its cars were being operated by human drivers during a few of those collisions.

Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car program, wrote a blog post to explain the incidents his company's autonomous cars have been in, saying that they were "minor" and only involved "little damage", with no injuries. "Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident," he said, adding that the incidents, including rear-end and side-impact collisions, were caused by drivers in other vehicles. He went on to say that his company has little knowledge on minor fender benders because these types of collisions are rarely reported to the police.

Being involved in only 11 accidents over 1.7 million miles should make for a pretty good safety track record for any vehicle, but given that self-driving cars are being touted as the ultimate solution to road safety problems that are supposed to be able to operate safely without getting involved in a single collision, these accident reports are a reason for concern. It seems that Google's cars are not exactly accident-free, which means that the company still has a lot of work to do to make them more reliable.

However, Urmson did say that Google has recorded several instances involving some of its cars successfully avoiding hitting bicyclists or other vehicles near the tech company's headquarters.

In addition to Google's cars, The Associated Press reported that Delphi's autonomous vehicle was also involved in an accident, further raising doubts about the safety of driverless cars. According to the automotive supplier, its car was being operated by a human driver at the time of the accident.

At the moment, a total of 48 self-driving vehicles are licensed to operate autonomously on public roads in California.

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#1

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 12:01 PM

"Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,"

What would you expect them to say? They are trying to get everyone to accept their concept/product.

While the claim may be true, it's not scientific. Are they tracking how many accidents their autonomous cars may have caused? They are self-reporting.....does anyone accept that Google is unbiased?

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#2

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 12:11 PM

"Being involved in only 11 accidents over 1.7 million miles should make for a pretty good safety track record for any vehicle, ..."

Let's see now 1.7 M divided by 11 accidents that's about 1 accident every 155,000 miles. I've logged well over 400,000 miles in my driving career. I've been involved in two accidents, neither were my fault (really, trust me).

No seriously, one was a semi waiting to turn left in front of me (he was coming the opposite direction). He waited there with his turn signal on from the time I was over a mile away. No one was on the road between us. As I got too close to avoid him he proceeded to pull out in front of me. I had to swerve to avoid hitting him. The end of my fish-tail swerve resulted in my back tires hitting a curb.

The other was being rear ended when I stopped for the train crossing bars. The lady behind me was trying to beat the train. Oh wait, maybe it was my fault....silly me, obeying traffic laws.

Anywho, so my accident rate is superior to an autonomous car. Does that mean I get to keep mine?

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#3

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 12:44 PM

JBTardis,

I believe that right now it's a bit of a toss up. I like you have driven probably the same mileage (400,000) all of mine in California and Nevada. I've been involved in several accidents too.

  • 6 rear end accidents, all not my fault. I was hit from behind! One HIT and RUN. I found and reported the guy, he had done a hit and run just 4 months before he hit me! Yes, I have a really sore neck from all of those accidents!
  • 1 minor fender bender (1981) where my brakes on my VW bug let loose and I hit a bumper with my front fender. No damage to the other vehicle!
  • 1 accident (2004) where I was cut off by a vehicle speeding and crossing 5 lanes right in front of me, as I swerved and looked in the direction of the offending car, I had swerved into a lane with all cars stopped. I did a fair amount of damage to my vehicle but after replacing the battery, it was running again!

The ratio of other people hitting me to my accidents speaks volumes. Poor drivers and distracted drivers are the one who should be made to use and pay for the maintenance of the autonomous vehicles!

It seems like DMV is just handing out drivers licenses in Cracker Jack boxes the way a lot of people drive.

I see so many people driving and doodling on their cell phone, it's easy to see because they are always looking down in their lap at their cell phones instead of driving!

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#5
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 2:10 PM

My comment was partially in jest. But who knows, maybe we would not have been in an accident if more cars on the road were autonomous. But then again, back when my accidents occurred no one even had a cell phone or iphone, let alone an autonomous vehicle.

I do see value in them, but I think it's a shame that humans will be giving up that skill (driving) to a machine. It's sad that we as a society don't stress enough training and put into practice common sense safety behaviours to overcome the accidents that happen already.

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#6
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 2:20 PM

Sometimes a comment in jest gets the thoughts brewing.

The phone companies need to get some programming in the phones to where it knows when you are driving and won't unlock the screen until you stop. However, I see every young person out there at a stop light grabbing their phone and devouring as much as they can before the light turns green.

The other day I saw a car that appeared to be broken down in a traffic lane, NOPE... He was on his phone and didn't realize that the light had gone green and now was turning red again.

If we do not take responsibility for our own actions, then the GUMMINT will step in and once again tell us what is good for us as a people!

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#7
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 2:23 PM

"...then the GUMMINT will step in and once again tell us what is good for us as a people!"
As much as I don't like the GUMMINT butting their collective noses in, if other's can't drive responsibly, something needs to be done. I just wish there was a better solution than big brother. So maybe autonomous cars helps. Sucks.

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#8
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 2:27 PM

You're preaching to the choir.

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#4

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 1:10 PM

Maybe. Or perhaps the problem is...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0TaYhjpOfo

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#19
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/27/2015 12:31 PM

Hey now we all have had days like that.

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#9

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 4:42 PM

Giggle.

Google sounds more and more like that teenager with a learners permit after an accident. "It was the human, Dad. They should've stopped for the yield sign. That bird came out of nowhere. It's not my fault! If I told the police, you were going to ground me."

I do trust that most teenagers will improve their driving skills with practice. I also know that some people should only take mass transit and taxis.

Google, Lexus, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and all of the other autonomous vehicle companies are no different. Most will eventually get it right. Some will only learn after some growing pains. A very few should never be allowed on the public roads.

I still think that Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren and several others will never make an autonomous sports car. It kind of defeats the point.

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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 4:51 PM

I still think that Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren and several others will never make an autonomous sports car. It kind of defeats the point.
What, you don't want your Ferrari to do the exact speed limit and not 1 MPH higher?????
True - It kind of defeats the point.

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#11

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 7:58 PM

It's always the other guys fault!"

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#12

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 8:00 PM

I'm waiting for the solution: "Get rid of the human drivers..."

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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 9:03 PM

..said the robot.

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#14

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 11:41 PM

I actually believe Google. The autonomous cars are programmed to obey all traffic laws, and are programmed to expect human drivers to do the same. Here lies the problem. There is no way to program cars to predict the utter unpredictability of human behavior and our total disregard of following rules.

Most advanced humans can smell a fool and will prepare for stupidity to occur. Only when the human factor is factored out will autonomous cars be safe.

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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/27/2015 7:47 AM

And there's the unwritten rule: Avoid eye contact in traffic circles. Making eye contact cedes right of way. I bet the robots aren't on to this one.

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#17
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/27/2015 9:58 AM

The laws and informal rules of the road are the problem. The Google car goes exactly the speed limit--no more. When it comes to a light that just turned yellow it stops. When making a left turn, if it sees a car coming down the road 100 feet ahead, it will not turn left.

This is why they are having so many rear end collisions. People expect the car in front of them to do certain typical things, but it does not do them.

I am all for this effort but maybe it will have to be limited to the Interstates like they are discussing with the trucks. I still love the idea of punching in where I want to go and sit back and watch the scenery go by!

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#15

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/26/2015 11:55 PM

...and, it is exactly this human unpredictability that determines the winners (and losers) of conflicts...by doing what is NOT expected to be done.

Not saying that wars and driving are related, BUT they do make an excellent corollary.

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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/27/2015 11:28 AM

Not saying that wars and driving are related, BUT they do make an excellent corollary.War, poker, and city driving: the art of the bluff.

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#20
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/27/2015 3:51 PM

...and that 'fine-line' between simple assertiveness and excessive aggressiveness!

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#21
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/27/2015 8:50 PM

Personally I have found that if you drive an old military 6x6 as a daily driver and have it setup like it came off a Mad Max studio set and have solid steel plate for a front bumper people seem to just assume you have the right away.

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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/28/2015 7:41 AM

All kidding aside, I realized awhile back that I look at drivers approaching on a side street to see if they are looking at me. If they're not, I am prepared for evasive action. I'm sure most people do the same thing, either consciously or unconsciously. I wonder if Google's robot drivers are sophisticated enough to sense whether other drivers are paying attention.

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#23
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/28/2015 7:53 AM

Peoples "wetware" algorithms are amazingly fast at seeing faces. I doubt the AI piloting Google's vehicle identifies faces.

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#24

Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/30/2015 5:14 AM

When all cars are autonomous will they argue as to which was to blame when there is the inevitable collision?

Del

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#25
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/30/2015 7:35 AM

Possibly but it will be hard for humans to tell. More will be said by all parties but with communication happening at WiFi speeds (or faster) the arguments will be settled before people will notice.

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#26
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/30/2015 8:36 AM

You're more optimistic than I. I can imagine it going on for even longer than it takes humans to handle it.

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#27
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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/30/2015 9:08 AM

Maybe I am overly optimistic. I would expect a safety system like piloting a vehicle would have a timer function to interrupt an endless loop.

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Re: Google Says Human Drivers Are Responsible for the Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

06/30/2015 9:19 AM

There are so many possibilities....machines arguing or negotiating the data set from the accident to determine responsibility/liability. Should the two machines not be able to come to a conclusion a timer to avoid an endless loop may resolve the issue, but wouldn't the losing corporation just extend the timer in an effort to cause the other machine to time out (give up) first? After awhile, the timer would be useless as the time would be quite long.

Under that scenario that all vehicles are autonomous, humans occupants can't be responsible....but corporations who design, manufacture and sell the vehicles can. Corporations have a financial interest in not being at fault (as do the insurers). I can see them going to great lengths to come away from an incident (accident) without their vehicle being viewed as at fault.

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