Google self-driving car only involved in 11 minor accidents after roving 1.7m miles

12 May 2015

Google self-driving car had more accidents in the city than on the freeway

After driving 1.7m miles in six years, Google’s self-driving car has been involved in only 11 minor accidents – none of which were Google’s fault – according to the internet giant’s director of the self-driving car programme, Chris Urmson.

The vehicles sustained light damage with no injuries to passengers, Urmson said in a Medium post. These incidents he said were of the nature of accidents that aren’t always reported to police, yet according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) these accidents account for 55pc of all crashes.

“One of the most important things we need to understand in order to judge our cars’ safety performance is ‘baseline’ accident activity on typical suburban streets,” Urmson said.

“Quite simply, because many incidents never make it into official statistics, we need to find out how often we can expect to get hit by other drivers. Even when our software and sensors can detect a sticky situation and take action earlier and faster than an alert human driver, sometimes we won’t be able to overcome the realities of speed and distance; sometimes we’ll get hit just waiting for a light to change.

“And that’s important context for communities with self-driving cars on their streets; although we wish we could avoid all accidents, some will be unavoidable.”

City driving is more dangerous than driving on the freeway

Google self-driving car had more accidents in the city than on the freeway

Google self-driving car had more accidents in the city than on the freeway

Urmson said the only way to understand crashes is to spend enough time on the road and if you spend enough time on the road accidents will happen.

“Over the six years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7m miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.

“Rear-end crashes are the most frequent accidents in America, and often there’s little the driver in front can do to avoid getting hit; we’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway.

“We’ve also been side-swiped a couple of times and hit by a car rolling through a stop sign. And as you might expect, we see more accidents per mile driven on city streets than on freeways; we were hit eight times in many fewer miles of city driving,” Urmson said


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years