Consumer Group Asks Google for Driverless-Car Accident Data
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Google Reveals Self-Driving Cars Have Been in Accidents

Consumer Watchdog group is calling on technology company to release data about the crashes involving its driverless cars.

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Consumer Watchdog, a California-based group, is calling on Google to release data about accidents involving its driverless cars, WRAL TechWire reported. The Associated Press reported Monday about several accidents on public highways in California.

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Carmen Balber, Consumer Watchdog’s executive director, hosted a press conference Tuesday morning in Santa Monica to discuss his group’s efforts to discover more information.

John Simpson, privacy project director of the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, notes that Google’s ultimate goal is a car without a steering wheel or pedals. This could prevent a person from taking over if a car loses control.

Google revealed that its self-driving cars have been in 11 minor traffic accidents since it began experimenting with the technology six years ago.

The company released the number following The AP report that Google had notified California of three collisions involving its self-driving cars since September, when reporting all accidents became a legal requirement as part of the permits for the tests on public roads.

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The director of Google’s self-driving car project wrote in a Web post that all 11 accidents were minor – “light damage, no injuries” – and happened over 1.7 million miles of testing, including nearly 1 million miles in self-driving mode, WRAL TechWire found.

“Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” wrote Google’s Chris Urmson.

“Cause” is a key word: Like Delphi Automotive, a parts supplier which suffered an accident in October with one of its two test cars, Google states that it was not at fault.

Delphi sent AP an accident report showing its car was hit, but 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 California Department of Motor Vehicles said it could not release details from accident reports.

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This lack of transparency troubles critics who want the public to be able to monitor the rollout of a technology that its own developers acknowledge remains imperfect.

Delphi’s accident report shows that the front of its 2014 Audi SQ5 was moderately damaged when it was broadsided by another car while waiting to make a left turn. Delphi’s car was not in self-driving mode at the time, company spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said.

Five other companies with testing permits told The AP they had no accidents. In all, 48 cars are licensed to test on state roads.

On Monday, Urmson posted a more complete accounting online, going back to the program’s origins in 2009.

The Google cars have been rear-ended seven times, often when stopped “but also on the freeway,” wrote Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program. In other collisions, the cars were side-swiped or “hit by a car rolling through a stop sign.” Eight of the 11 collisions were on city streets.

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He also described instances in which Google’s cars avoided hitting other cars or bicyclists as they drove on streets near the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

Nevada, Michigan and Florida have passed laws welcoming tests of self-driving cars onto their roads. Their regulators told AP they weren’t aware of any reports. California’s regulators provided the total – four accidents since September – but would not comment about their nature or severity, citing a longstanding state law making collision reports confidential.

A chief selling point for self-driving cars is safety. Their cameras, radar and laser sensors provide a far more detailed understanding of their surroundings than humans have. Reaction times should be faster. Cars could be programmed to adjust if they sense a crash coming – move a few feet, tighten seat belts, honk the horn or flash lights at a distracted driver.

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Visit wraltechwire.com to read the full story.

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