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At the end of February 2016, it was widely reported that one of Google’s self-driving cars (SDC) had been involved in a minor crash. There wasn’t much news in that: Google cars (a fleet of more than 50 is being tested on California, Texas, and Washington roadways) have been involved in at least 17 previous crashes.
This particular crash was different, however, because it was the first one in which the crash could be directly blamed, at least in part, on the Google car. No one was injured in the low-speed crash (the Google car was moving at 2 mph and was struck by a bus moving at 15 mph), but the Google car received minor damage.
Since they first hit the streets in 2009, Google SDCs (also referred to as the Google AV, for autonomous vehicle) have logged close to 1.5 million driver-less miles. The fleet currently averages 10,000–15,000 miles per week. According to the most recent data, the average American driver is behind the wheel for less than 14,000 miles per year, so taken as a whole, the Google SDC project is driving about 50 times more than most people (and accumulating lots of data).
In 2013, all drivers in the United States combined to travel 3.06 trillion miles. That same year, more than 5.6 million total crashes were reported (the majority resulted only in property damage, but over 1.5 million people were injured and nearly 33,000 killed). A study last year found the overall rate of crashes to be around 4.1 per million miles traveled. However, it also found that, based on reported data from Google and other research efforts, self-driving cars have a crash rate of more than double that, around 9.1 per million miles.
If the study numbers are correct, then statistically humans are still better behind the wheel than an artificial intelligence. But it doesn’t seem like a fair comparison: Being in a crash and causing one are different things, and except for the February incident, all of the crashes were caused by human drivers, most of whom rear-ended a Google car while it was stopped in traffic.
They may still have a way to go, but many believe self-driving cars are inevitable. The Wall Street Journal published an article supporting that view back in 2012, and the majority of reader feedback agreed. Cars are becoming more automated all the time, with features like anti-lock brakes, collision avoidance, and (soon) automatic emergency braking and possibly even vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
The Department of Transportation has already made an initial assessment of safety standards for automated vehicles. When all vehicles are automated, the crash, injury, and fatality rates will drop to as close as zero as it’s possible to get, short of giving up motor vehicles altogether.
But that vision is in the future. Some think it’s 10 years away, some 25, and some longer still.
Until automation takes over, we’re all subject to the long-established risks of driving every time we take to the road: distracted drivers, reckless drivers, drivers who operate under the influence, and drivers who display all the other dangerous driving behaviors that lead to crashes. Until every car is equipped with a system like the SDC—which puts safety first, follows all the rules of the road all the time, and learns more as it goes—crashes will continue to happen.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a car accident, you are urged to contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An Indianapolis car accident lawyer from WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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