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 began releasing 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 be located.
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.