There’s been a fair amount of coverage in the media around the 11 reported accidents with Google’s autonomous vehicles. While some headlines about self-driving cars crashing may confuse the public about the merits of autonomous vehicle safety, the facts on the 11 accidents should ease any cause for worry: all of the 11 minor accidents were a result of driver error (from drivers of other vehicles) and had nothing to do with the autonomous vehicle functionality.
Seven of the accidents reportedly involved another vehicle rear-ending Google’s car, two were sideswipes from other vehicles, and a car running a red light was the cause of another. This information helps confirm what we already know: 94% of accidents are attributed to human error, and autonomous vehicles offer drastically improved safety capabilities that are expected to reduce the number of accidents on the road by enormous proportions. With 360-degree visibility; 100% attention in all directions at all times; and sensors keeping track of other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians out to a distance of nearly two football fields, autonomous vehicles use much safer and more advanced driving techniques than humans—and they won’t ever be caught texting at the wheel.
Google released figures on the accident rates for their autonomous vehicles to clear up any confusion that may have been going on in the media: there have been 11 accidents in over 1.7 million miles of driving over the course of 6 years. While this is actually higher than the national average of 0.3 damaging incidents per 100,000 miles, Google has noted that the higher rates are largely due to the company’s full reporting of accidents, a practice most drivers ignore. Most importantly, director of Google’s self-driving program Chris Urmson has said that not once was the self-driving vehicle the actual cause of the accident. Thus, the at-fault accident rate for Google’s autonomous vehicles’ through nearly 2 million miles of driving is 0%.
Benefits of Automation
Autonomous vehicles have benefits that extend far beyond fewer traffic accidents. In early 2015, the International Transport Forum at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report titled Urban Mobility System Upgrade: How shared self-driving cars could change city traffic. This report found that autonomous vehicles could provide the same mobility we have now (using a mid-sized European city as an example) with just 10% of the cars. Additionally, a network of autonomous vehicles could completely remove the need for on-street parking spaces while also removing 80% of off-street parking, opening vast new public and private opportunities for alternative uses of valuable city space. Considering that driver error accounts for the vast majority of vehicle accidents and Google’s autonomous cars have racked up a total of zero at-fault accidents over the course of 6 years of driving, it’s clear that the potential long-term benefits of autonomous vehicles are well worth the associated risks—even if there were one or two accidents in the process.
Tags: Advanced Transportation Technologies, Autonomous Vehicles, Google, Transportation Efficiencies
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