Road Safety News

Google cars involved in 11 collisions

Wednesday 13th May 2015

There have been 11 collisions involving Google’s self-driving cars since the programme began six years ago, but Google says none of the collisions have been caused by one of its vehicles. 

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing permits for the testing of autonomous vehicles in September 2014, and BBC News says that four out of the 48 self-driving cars on public roads in California have been involved in accidents in the last eight months. Three of the four cars belonged to Google.

The admission of 11 collisions was made in a blog by Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car programme, who says Google’s cars have self-driven nearly a million miles, and are now averaging around 10,000 self-driven miles a week.

Chris Urmson said: “If you spend enough time on the road, accidents will happen whether you’re in a car or a self-driving car.

“Over the six years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.

“Rear-end crashes are the most frequent accidents in America, and often there’s little the driver in front can do to avoid getting hit; 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 eight times in many fewer miles of city driving.”

“These experiences (and countless others) have only reinforced for us the challenges we all face on our roads today. We’ll continue to drive thousands of miles so we can all better understand the all too common incidents that cause many of us to dislike day to day driving — and we’ll continue to work hard on developing a self-driving car that can shoulder this burden for us.”


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I do not see in the article reference to collisions resulting from the "same errors as the humans do". Rather it seems the self-driving cars are being hit by human controled vehicles whilst stationary or when a car pulls out of a junction into them. Do you have other evidence to back up that statement from other sources?

There are some exciting developments in hazard avoidance systems for vehicles, some of which are already available which in my opinion may result in fewer collisions on our roads but my mind is still open on this subject as the systems develop.

You mention that "the system itself generates the type of incidents in the article". Does that mean if the system causes stationary vehicles, say at a queue for traffic lights, then it is the system's fault that the human drives into the back of the queue?

Furthermore, does that mean the system requires an amendment to remove the queueing rather than better training or changed behaviours for the driver, or systems such as automatic breaking for the car?

I would guess a bit of all of them but I am just trying to get a feeling for your system based thinking of which I presently have no understanding.
Nick, Lancashire

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

In any collision it takes two to tangle. There must be a precipitating error made by the controller of one vehicle (we can't call them drivers can we) allied to a completing error on behalf of the controller of the other. Driverless cars are being sold on the idea that they do not make errors and are thus safer yet here they are making exactly the same errors that the humans do.

It's only to be expected really as the driverless car is trying to exist in an environment that evolved to be managed by humans and which therefore works in a very human centred way. Eventually the driverless car enthusiasts will realise that it's the system itself that generates the type of errors illustrated in the article, not the humans operating within it.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (2) | Disagree (3)

Without seeing details of all 11 collisions (and the ones involving other manufacturers' vehicles) it appears that the majority of the reported collisions involving these vehicles are perhaps of a type which the self-drive car is unable to manoeuvre itself to avoid? The collisions seem to be where the vehicles are stopped in a queue with no space to "escape" due to proximity of other vehicles/footways or are "pulled-out on" at the last second at a junction. I struggle to see how the self-drive car can take avoiding action in such circumstances. Perhaps external airbags to cushion the blow of an approaching vehicle? On reading this report it appears that it is still the movements of the human controlled vehicle which results in the collisions - granted it has been written by Google themselves.

I am sure that I will own one in my lifetime but perhaps others may be convinced to get one only when the cars have a James Bond style ejector seat fitted which can automatically deploy to get them out of there if a collision is imminent:-)
Nick, Lancashire

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

The accidents described all appear to be perfectly normal ones and certainly nothing unusual. That's the problem though isn't it as you would have thought that the ability to avoid normal everyday accidents would have been the first thing to be programmed in. In an autonomous car you might expect them to suffer the occasional crash when the circumstances are really abnormal such as when a building falls down in front of them, but for them to have an accident that's relatively common among the human population shows how very far they have yet to go.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (8) | Disagree (8)

The safety record of Google cars, while impressive, is not of the self-drive cars, but of the self-drive cars with their so-called "safety drivers". How many crashes would the cars have been involved in had the "safety drivers" not intervened? I predict that there will not be an affordable self-drive car on sale in my lifetime, but I do want to be proved wrong!
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)

With such open advancement of self driving cars on public streets, and the ability to monitor all moving traffic, it is the thin end of a wedge that ends with no-one being allowed to drive their own vehicles. Some will see this as advantageous to road safety, and some will see the beginning of total control over human movements. There is more truth in science fiction than today's reality.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

"It seems as though Google's self-drive cars are doing a pretty good job. However, I would never be happy being a passenger in one, partly because of their tendency to be hit from behind."

They have no more tendency to be hit from behind than joe public. If it had not been a google car in front, would the vehicle in front have still been hit? Quite likely.

In quarter of a century of driving, I have had 4 collisions, all in urban areas, all with me stationary and handbrake on.

Nose to tail in slow/stationary traffic is by far the most prevalent collision. Just ride around the streets and see any bumped cars, piles of glass and plastic.

Yes, on the motorway there can be plenty time and space to avoid being rear-ended, but at 3mph in town, where you have determined the vehicle behind has stopped, or will stop, it is a very different story.
steve, watford

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

Assuming these collisions have been described honestly by Google, I suppose the implication might be that if the 'other' vehicles involved had also been autonomous, the collisions wouldn't have happened at all.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (11) | Disagree (2)

It seems as though Google's self-drive cars are doing a pretty good job. However, I would never be happy being a passenger in one, partly because of their tendency to be hit from behind.

When I am on a motorway and traffic ahead is slowing to a stop I always move over to lane 1 where I have a convenient 'escape route' (along the hard shoulder), I stop well back from vehicles in front, am in gear with my foot on the brakes to alert following drivers, and my eyes are on the mirror. I am looking for those who are unable to stop and perhaps about to hit me from behind; if that is about to happen, I can just hit the throttle, lift the clutch, and use my escape route. Until Google comes up with a system that has that level of anticipation and planning, I am going to be in charge of my own safety.
David, Suffolk

Agree (8) | Disagree (5)