Google reveals lessons learned (and accident count) from self-driving car program
Chris Urmson, director of the Google Self-Driving Car program, has revealed that the small fleet (20+) of Google autonomous cars has been involved in 11 accidents over the almost 1.7 million miles (2.7 million km) the cars have traveled in the six years they've been on the road. However, Urmson was adamant that "not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident" and revealed some of the lessons learned over the journey so far.
Urmson's statements came in the form of a post on Backchannel, which followed an Associated Press report revealing the accident count in the wake of a newCalifornia law requiring Google and others to report accidents involving its self-driving cars to the state. Google reported three accidents between May2014 and May 2015, while Delphi, which has its own version of aself-driving car, an Audi SQ5, reported its vehicle was struck whilewaiting to turn at an intersection and not under autonomous control.
In his post, Urmson details that the GoogleCars were rear-ended seven times by other cars, side swiped twice, and hit onceby a car running a stop sign, with the majority of the accidents occurring on city streets ratherthan highways. The 1.7 million miles (2.7 million km) the cars are reported to have traveled combines the distance traveled autonomously and under manual control.
As a point of comparison to human drivers, based on data from theNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the rate ofaccidents with "property damage only" in 2012 was around 0.38 per 100,000 miles (161,000 km) driven – taking into account that 54 percent of property damage accidents aren't even reported. Google has experienced 0.64 accidents per 100,000 miles driven, whichis higher than the average.
I wanted to check this against my own driving record. I've beendriving for 37 years, averaging 15,000 miles (24,000) per year. I've had four accidents, (two of which were my fault), so my accident rate is 0.66 per 100,000 miles, orroughly the same as the Google self-driving cars. You can consider your own performance.
Urmson goes on to detail some of thelessons that the Google team has learned with over a million autonomous milesdriven in its test cars and reveals where accidentsare most likely to happen.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google says that it has seen a lot of people not payingattention to the road. "Our safety drivers routinely seepeople weaving in and out of their lanes; we've spotted people reading books,and even one playing a trumpet," says Urmson. And that's not even counting all of the drivers talking or texting on smartphones. Accordingto government reports, 3,328 deaths and 421,000 injuries per year are caused bydistracted driving, with this now accounting for one in five of all crashes in the US and rising 6 percent peryear.
Of course, automated cars don't get distracted, never failto pay attention, and have no blind spots in their 360-degree laser sensors. Theyalso don't drink, do drugs, or fall asleep at the wheel.
The next highest cause of problems for the Google cars is intersections, which shouldn't be a surprise. It has encountered several instances of people actually driving the wrong way down a divided street, mostly at night – with two cars driving the wrong way at once on one occasion. Other intersection problems included people changing lanes midway through a turn, and suddenly changing their mind about which direction to turn and swerving in front of the self-driving car.
Urmson reports that Google is continuing to test and refine its vehicle's software, hardware, and sensors, with the eventual goal of having a safe vehicle with no human controls at all. It emphasizes that currently a human safety driver is behind the wheel whenever the cars on on public roads, ready to take over instantly if necessary. However, Urmson didn't provide statistics on these "operator interventions", but that testing is continuing, with the cars driving 10,000 miles (16,100 km) a month on city streets and highways.
"We'll continueto drive thousands of miles so we can all better understand the all too commonincidents that cause many of us to dislike day to day driving – and we'llcontinue to work hard on developing a self-driving car that can shoulder thisburden for us," Urmson concluded.
The following video features a ride-along with the a safety driver for the Google Self- Driving Car program.