Google shares more details on self-driving car accidents

Tech Giant Still Won't Release Accident Reports

Google has pledged to release monthly reports on the status of its self-driving car program, and says these updates will include information on accidents involving the vehicles.

But the company won't release the actual accident reports, a sore point for activists who recently have clamored for the company to be more transparent in the way it tests this promising technology on public roads.

"Google is dribbling out bits of information in the hope to silence legitimate calls for full transparency," said John Simpson, privacy director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit that has asked Google to release reports from the 12 accidents the company says it has been involved in over the past six years. "They are testing on public roads, and the public has a right to know exactly what happened when something goes wrong."

Under California law, the accident reports are not considered public records.

Google has attributed all accidents to human error, and says drivers of the other cars involved caused 11 of the 12 accidents. In eight of those, the Google cars were rear-ended, and the autonomous vehicles were sideswiped in two other crashes. One of the accidents occurred at an intersection when a human driver failed to yield at a stop sign, and in one incident, a Google driver accidentally rear-ended another car while manually driving. Google had previously provided those details.

The first monthly report installment sheds new light on which types of self-driving vehicles were involved, directions of travel, locations, and whether the cars were operating in autonomous or manual mode. Update: Google says this information comes directly from the OL 316 forms used to report accidents involving autonomous cars in California, though it has "edited the summaries lightly to protect other drivers' information."

But Google still will not release the original OL 316 forms, nor the "traffic collision report" forms used in California to report accidents. Another company that has been involved in a single self-driving car accident, Delphi Automotive, has released this information, which verified its car was not at fault.

Regarding Google, Simpson said, "We now know a few more details of what happened. The problem is that it's Google's version and they want us to take their word for it."

The Google self-report adds information that goes beyond accidents, with further details on the company's overall program. For example, it notes there are 23 Lexus RX450h SUVs currently driving on the streets in and near Mountain View, CA, and nine more prototype cars are being tested only on closed tracks. The company says its fleet has collectively logged 1,011,338 miles in autonomous mode, and that it's currently averaging about 10,000 miles of autonomous testing per week.

The monthly report also provides insight on unusual situations encountered. In this first installment, engineers detail how a self-driving car behaved when two cyclists turned directly into its lane.

"Our cars have seen thousands of vehicles and pedestrians, and know what they look like, and can use that not only to detect, but to predict how they're going to move in the world," Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car program, told an audience of transportation professionals last week in Pittsburgh. "We can predict this with the magic of 1 million miles on the road. But no matter how many million miles you have on the road, you haven't seen it all."

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