Self driving cars created by Google have been involved in 11 collisions since they were first unleashed on the roads six years ago, but Google claims that many of these crashes have been caused by humans.
Recently Google released data about how successful the cars have been and an explanation was included in response to a report by the Associated Press stating that three collisions had happened since September last year. Google clarified that there had been “11 minor accidents” with light damage, and no injuries which happened while the 23 cars had been driving autonomously and with manual safety drivers behind the wheel.
The director of Google’s self driving car program, Chris Urmson, has said that self driving cars have never been the cause of an accident and that most of the crashes had been caused by people driving into the back of the vehicles. Some crashes may have happened while the cars had human safety drivers and the crashes happened “mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway”.
No reports of the crashes have been made public by Google so the accuracy of its claims can’t be verified. Companies do report self driven car accidents as part of the permits granted for testing them on the road, but the information can’t be released by the department that is charged with handling the reports.
Google’s self driving car program began in 2009 when Google promised that they would become safer than human driven cars. This is because self driven cars can use information about the location of other cars in relation to them in order to prevent collisions. Urmson has admitted that sometimes crashes are inevitable as even though the software and sensors of self driven cars can detect an imminent crash and take action with more speed than a driver, occasionally they “won’t be able to overcome the realities of speed and distance.” He goes on to say that come accidents will be unavoidable and it’s important for communities with self driving cars to remember that.
Those who oppose the use of driverless cars have said that Google should be more transparent about the number of collisions the cars have had. This will be important to convince people that they are safe, especially if they become more prevalent, as is predicted. Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested that human driving might be made illegal in the future once self driving cars have been fully tested as they will be considered much safer. Tesla is planning to launch its own system in 2016 which will enable its cars to be 90% self driven, while a completely self-driven car will be launched within six years.
There may be a more important issue for Google than that of the amount of collisions its cars have- privacy and hacking. Automobile companies already collect data from millions of cards on the road but if self driving cars come popular on the road then even more data may be collected. The Government Accountability Office has already found that there is not enough consumer protection in place around data gleaned from vehicle software. For Google, this means it will have to convince people that by buying or using its cars, they will not be subjected to advertising or any other personal targeting based on their location or car usage. A Google spokesperson has already said that self driving cars are being tested for engineering purposes rather than to create an ad-supported business model, however we don’t know if their stance will change in the future.
In addition to data privacy, hacking is currently a big concern and Google, plus other companies such as Tesla, Delphi and Daimler AG, must be able to prove that their cars cannot be hacked. Not only could car owners be subject to spam through internet connections, but malware, viruses or direct attacks could put people at risk of their car being controlled remotely by someone else. Any of these situations could lead to life threatening consequences for the car passengers, and so concerns must be taken seriously to ensure that consumer fears are quashed.
With news breaking that a handful of Google’s driverless cars will hit public roads this summer, the company needs to make doubly sure that the vehicles are safe and roadworthy.