Self-Driving Cars

Report: Google, Delphi Self-Driving Cars Careening Into Trouble in California

Report: Google, Delphi Self-Driving Cars Careening Into Trouble in California
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Updated Monday 5/11 at 4:23 p.m. ET

Autonomous vehicles are driving into trouble -- and into other vehicles -- in California.

Four of the 48 self-driving cars legally permitted to motor on the streets of the Golden State have gotten into accidents since last September, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That’s roughly 8.3 percent of all of the autonomous cars permitted to operate in California.

Luckily each of the four fender benders occurred at speeds of less than 10 miles per hour. Two of the crackups took place while sensors and computers had control of the wheel. The other two happened when a person was in command, an unnamed source “familiar with the accident reports” informed the AP.

Related: Driverless Cars Won't Make Roadways Perfectly Safe

Google and Delphi Automotive are responsible for the self-driving test vehicles involved in the minor collisions. Three of the 23 Lexus SUVs that Google modified into “autonomous driving” rigs and a self-driving test vehicle belonging to Delphi Automotive crashed in separate incidents. Both companies dismissed the bangups as minor and claim their cars aren’t to blame. It’s worth noting that drivers are still required to be behind the wheel when in motion in California.

The accidents came to light after the AP confirmed that California DMV records for the incidents existed.

Interestingly, neither Google nor Delphi went public with the collisions on their own earlier, acknowledging them on the record only now, post-exposé. Presumably, they aim to preserve the key selling point that self-driving cars are safer overall than cars manned by oh-so-distractible humans. The road-scanning technology behind autonomous vehicles -- which includes laser sensors, advanced radar, stereoscopic cameras -- can’t get tired or distracted, self-driving car creators claim, like mere mortals often do.

Related: Tend to Get Carsick? Steer Clear of Self-Driving Cars.

This isn’t Google’s first brush with self-driving car scrapes. Also as noted by the AP in an extensive exclusive published today, the tech giant copped to three other autonomous vehicle accidents during a press briefing two years ago. Google’s first self-driving test car fleet hit the roads of California with the state’s blessing back in May of 2014.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet mammoth admitted that, since September 2014, its street-legal self-driving cars have undergone “a handful of minor fender-benders, light damage, no injuries, so far caused by human error and inattention.” Ah, so flawed humans are apparently to blame, according to Google. The company also admitted that, with its vehicles clocking “the equivalent of over 15 years of typical human driving,” some accidents are to be expected.   

For Delphi’s part, the a spokesperson for the U.K.-based auto parts maker claims that, in one of the two DMV-reported collisions, the driver of another vehicle was at fault. The person broadsided Delphi's 2014 Audi SQ5 self-driving car. The spokesperson also said Delphi’s car was not set to self-driving mode at the time of the clash.

Related: Elon Musk: Human-Driven Cars Might Someday Be Banned

Google, which earlier this year said that its self-driving car would be available by 2020, remains hush-hush on the causes of the Google car accidents revealed by the AP.

If you think making contact with a mid-sized self-driving car sounds scary, you might not want to imagine colliding with Daimler’s new 18-wheeler autonomous big rig, now legally driving full steam ahead on the desert highways of Nevada.  

Think you won’t have to sweat self-driving cars outside of California and Nevada? Think again. Autonomous vehicles could be driving to a roadway near you. By some estimates, self-driving cars will roll out in up to 30 U.S. cities by the close of 2016. Try not to be too distracted to spot them.

Related: TomTom Says Its Maps Are Destined for Self-Driving Cars

As you might expect, Google isn't at all thrilled about the AP's story, which spawned dozens of spin-off stories from other news outlets the world over. Chris Urmson, the head of the company's self-driving car program, fired back on Medium today with a rebuttal post titled "The View from the Front Seat of the Google Self-Driving Car."

A Google spokesperson also contacted Entrepreneur after this story published with the following statement: “Safety is our highest priority. Since the start of our program 6 years ago, we’ve driven nearly a million miles autonomously, on both freeways and city streets, and the self-driving car hasn't caused a single accident.”

Related: Mercedes' Self-Driving Car Says Hello to San Francisco

Edition: November 2016

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