Since our last report on
Google’s self-driving cars in August, these driverless vehicles have logged a few hundred thousand
additional miles on public roadways.
These vehicles were first introduced in 2009 and in the six years since
have accumulated more than 1.8 million miles of testing on U.S. roadways.
In this time, the driverless cars have been involved in only 14 motor
vehicle accidents, each minor and none caused by the self-driving car.
In comparison, 94% of the thousands of minor automobile accidents that
occur every day in America are caused by human error. The original goal
of Google’s self-driving vehicles was to beat human driver error
rates, an objective that now seems to be attainable. By using maps, sensors,
and other advanced technological tools, Google has been able to produce
a vehicle safer than those vulnerable to human error.
In spite of the low incident numbers, many are skeptical of the safety
of driverless vehicles working on busy interstates and highways. Google
monthly updates and reports in May of 2015 detailing the accidents involving self-driving
cars. A majority of the accidents occurred when the driverless vehicles
were struck from behind. Many happened while the vehicles were already
stopped at red traffic lights. A few occurred on freeways. Because none
of the accidents were the fault of the driverless vehicles’ autonomous
driving, Google continues to defend their technology and hopes to move
forward with the experimentation.
According to Chris Urmson, the head of Google’s driverless vehicles,
the company expects self-driving vehicles to be used on public roadways
within two to five years by real people. While they would still be considered
test vehicles, normal people will be able to use the self-driving automobiles
for the first time. Google would be able to collect data on the vehicles’
interaction with pedestrians and other automobiles if this prediction
comes to light. It is still unclear what state these test vehicles will
At some point, these vehicles will almost certainly fail on public roadways.
The question is whether or not the decreased frequency will make that
acceptable. The vehicle may not be perfect, but they are already proving
to be safer than those driven by humans. As these types of technologies
advance, expect to see more and more vehicles like Google’s self-driving
vehicles on public roadways.