Apparently, one of the biggest risks where autonomous cars are concerned is the human driver. Since they were first authorized to be tested on California’s streets back in September 2014, 4 out of 48 self-driving vehicles have been involved in crashes.
But according to the reports, the three Google cars and one Delphi car did not caused colliding incidents on their own; human error was at fault in each case. The Delphi car crashed back in October, while it was waiting to make a left at a light; another car crossed its path and caused the collision, according to company officials.
Katelin Jabbari, representing the tech giant, explained that all three Google car crashes were caused by the lack of the driver’s attention, and it shouldn’t contribute to postponing the creation of the autonomous vehicle fleet.
Xavier Mosquet, head of Boston Consulting Group’s automotive branch in North America, says that mishaps along the way are to be expected, but improved safety is an inherent design to these self-piloted vehicles. So far, both companies have only experimented with prototypes, so final and decisive conclusions based on them would be folly.
Active safety systems are already being implemented into auto-piloted cars, creating more and more stepping stones for the target of making public roads safer for travelling.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that some of said systems, like the sensors that warn drivers of a potential collision and automatically press the brakes, are already undergoing tests in order to help reduce property insurance claims and bodily injuries.
Whatever helps the driver make a better decision behind the wheel is an improvement. Recent crashes are just dented stepping stones, and jumping to wrong conclusions about their safety would do nothing but slow down the technological advance.
Bryant Walker Smith, law and engineering professor at the University of South Carolina, explains that autonomous vehicles were bound to be hit at some point – put any vehicle on our roads long enough, an a crash is bound to happen.
From Google’s reports, almost all of their self-driving cars are approaching the 1 million miles mark on autopilot, while the weekly average is 10,000 self-driven miles – most of them inside the city. The cars also have on board more than 700,000 miles travelled with human drivers in control.
On Monday, Google blogged about their self-driving project, stating that their vehicles haven’t been the cause in any of the 11 small accidents that occurred over 6 years of testing. Even when the cars are on auto-pilot during testing, safety drivers are always ready to take control.
Are human drivers better than auto-pilot?
These incidents are routine, Smith said, mostly because of how people are conducting themselves in traffic. None of the crashes were catastrophic and they shouldn’t raise alarm. What we should worry about instead, is the fact that more than 30,000 people die each year in car collisions in the U.S – and this happens with humans behind the wheel.
With such a striking figure on the auto-crashes death toll, people should not be so resistant to new things that are designed to save lives and improve the driving experience in the process.
Besides Google and Delphi, five more companies in California have applied for and obtained authorization to test their self-driving cars. The Department of Motor Vehicles has approved 48 vehicles for testing and 269 people are allowed to drive them, according to spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez.
Consumer groups, however, are worried and report doubts about the lack of public reporting of the 11 incidents, as more transparency would probably raises less red flags. John Simpson, head of Privacy Project at Consumer Watchdog, wrote a letter to Google asking about this issue, and claiming the public deserves to know what goes on – after all, these cars are tested on public roads, so drivers have a right to know if they are being put at risk.
According to Consumer Watchdog, it should be mandatory for Google to release any future collision reports in which its driverless cars are involved. The company found out about Google’s robotic cars crashes from the DMV, following a Public Records Act request.
The future is here
Rosemary Shahan, chief of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety in Sacramento, said we needn’t worry about driverless cars, in spite of the four incidents.
Such tiny figures should not be the base of any conclusions; instead, we should wait and see how technology will overcome these challenges. So far, a lot of the 48 autonomous cars have yet to be prepared to self-drive in difficult weather conditions, including fog, snow, and heavy rain.
What worries Shahan though, is the questionable concept that a passenger could take control of the vehicle in chase of an emergency – mostly because passengers will less likely be paying attention to the traffic while watching a football match or scrolling on Facebook.
Despite the current issues, automakers rely heavily on the future of self-driving cars. According to a study conducted by IHS Automotive, more than 250,000 self-driving vehicles might be sold each year by 2025; come 2035, and that figure is expected to reach 11.8 million.
Image Source: Extreme Tech