Consumer Watch Dogs Worry About Safety of Google's Self-Driving Car

Nancy Anderson
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Google has been touting the success of its self-driving car program for several years. The tech giant claims its 23 vehicles have test-driven more than 1.7 million miles, with more than 1 million of those miles driven autonomously.

Despite the reputation for effectiveness Google has been trying to create, the self-driving car has a problem. The Google car was in 11 accidents over the span of six years, which averages to 0.65 accidents per 100,000 miles. The average human driver gets in 0.3 accidents that cause property damage per every 100,000 miles driven. This track record needs to improve for the Google car, claim consumer industry analysts.

Yet Google stands by its product. Of the 11 accidents, 10 were the fault of drivers in other cars. The self-driving car that caused the other accident was under control of the human driver who rear-ended another vehicle. Seven accidents occurred when someone else rear-ended the Google car, two accidents were side-swipes, and one wreck happened when another car rolled through a stop sign.

Self-driving cars still remain very safe and reliable. When the on-board computer system sees something amiss concerning another vehicle, the car slows down or even pulls to the side of the road. An autonomous car may even notify law enforcement of a wreck, erratic driver or broken-down vehicle.

The main issue revolves around Google's transparency with respect to accidents. On the one hand, people's lives could be at stake with regards to a self-driving car on the road. Yet, Google must be able to maintain some kind of proprietary privacy over its driving systems. The accident reports from before 2014 were made public only after media reports. Mandatory accident reporting to the public, at least in California, began in September 2014.

Google owns 23 autonomous vehicles that are undergoing on-road testing in California. Six other companies have been testing these types of cars in the state, adding another 25 to the mix. Luxury automaker Audi has been working on autonomous prototypes to one-up its competition. Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo all plan to have some sort of automated functions on their vehicles. Have these automakers been mandated to report their accidents on American roads?

Google has also been working with American automakers in Detroit. The tech giant built a small plant in Michigan, and the company works with auto industry experts on its urban driving proving ground. The University of Michigan also partnered with Google to create an urban landscape that tests Google's vehicles in city-driving scenarios using connected devices that warn cars of possible dangers. Mass production of a fleet of autonomous vehicles began in early 2015 as Google's technology improved enough to be duplicated.

Google's self-driving car is still a work-in-progress. If anything, the accident reports show Google's vehicles are safe and human drivers are less safe. This fact should alert the insurance industry that autonomous vehicles are good for business by creating fewer claims for auto accidents over the long term.

Photo courtesy of Mark Doliner at



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  • Robert W.
    Robert W.

    Disclosure of accidents and disclosure of driving systems are not synonymous. All makers of autonomous vehicles should be required to report results of actual road tests.

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