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Autonomous Vehicles Tested on California Roads Aren’t Safe Without Someone Behind Steering Wheel: Consumer Group

New reports required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles from companies testing autonomous cars on the state’s public roads show the technology isn’t safe unless it’s monitored by a human behind a steering wheel who can take control, according to the group Consumer Watchdog.

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New reports required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles from companies testing autonomous cars on the state’s public roads show the technology isn’t safe unless it’s monitored by a human behind a steering wheel who can take control, according to the group Consumer Watchdog.

Waymo logged 352,544 autonomous miles in the state with its 75 autonomous cars. It reported that a test driver took control 63 times, or once every 5,506 miles. The failure rate is slightly worse than the 2016 period when Waymo’s autonomous cars drove 635,868 miles on California’s roads and reported 124 disengagements, or one every 5,127 miles, according to Consumer Watchdog.

GM’s Cruise division logged the second-most miles of the 20 companies that were required to report on their testing, according to Consumer Watchdog’s analysis.  It drove 86 cars, a total of 131,675 miles, and had 105 disengagements, or one every 1,254 miles.

“Despite the self-serving hype of the manufacturers, robot technology simply isn’t ready for our roads without hands-on, behind-the-wheel engagement and supervision by a human driver,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project director.

Another indication of the safety of the autonomous technology is the number of crashes involving the driverless cars, according to Consumer Watchdog. Crashes must be reported to the DMV and the reports are posted on the agency’s website. GM Cruise already has reported two crashes this year. It had 22 collisions in 2017 and has logged a total of 25 since it began testing.

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Waymo had 3 crashes in 2017. It posted 13 in 2016 and nine in 2015. It also has reported a total of 25 crashes since crash reports were required in 2014.

While 50 companies are licensed to test autonomous vehicles in California, only 20 companies were required to file disengagement reports covering 2017. Only those that received testing permits before Jan. 1, 2017, had to file reports covering last year. The others would first file 2018 reports, including their data for a portion of 2017, by Jan. 1, 2019.

The DMV said 19 of the 20 filed as required, but that Faraday & Future did not submit a report. The DMV will be following up with that company, a DMV spokesperson said.

Consumer Watchdog praised the Department of Motor Vehicles for requiring and posting the disengagement reports and the crash reports. Other states where testing is being done, including Arizona, Washington, Michigan and Pennsylvania, have no such disclosure requirement.

“We have no idea what’s happening in the other states. It’s only because of California’s rules that the public can find out what’s happening when companies use public roads as their private laboratories,” said Simpson. “It’s only a partial picture, because other state regulators aren’t protecting their citizens.”

Simpson added that companies testing autonomous cars in all states should be required to make video and technical data publicly available when the vehicles are involved in an accident.

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