Six years ago, Google began working on self-driving cars. Last May, the monolithic tech company unveiled its autonomous prototype, and many were leery. It had no steering wheel, accelerator, or brake pedal — only a start button, a display telling riders how fast the car is going, and a big red emergency stop button. Capable of ferrying two people, riders summon the vehicle with a smartphone app, and off they go.
Now, one year later, Google revealed that its self-driving cars have been in 11 minor traffic accidents since the project first began. Chris Urmson, the project’s director, wrote in a web post that every accident was minor — “light damage, no injuries” — and had all happened over 1.7 million miles of testing, including nearly one million miles in self-driving mode.
“Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” wrote Urmson on May 11, putting each of the other motorists to blame. “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 8 times in many fewer miles of city driving.”
However, the top advertising agency released the data after the Associated Press reported that Google had notified the state of California of three collisions involving its autonomous cars since September, when reporting each and every accident became a legal requirement as part of the permits required to test vehicles on public roads.
The AP reports that this lack of transparency troubles critics, who believe that the public should be able to monitor the rollout of a technology that its own developers acknowledge remains imperfect.
“Google has not made public any records, so both enthusiasts and critics of the emerging technology have only the company’s word on what happened,” the AP reports. “The California Department of Motor Vehicles said it could not release details from accident reports.”