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Google: No, Our Self-Driving Cars Aren't Getting Dinged Up That Much

An AP report prompts Google to put out self-driving stats: 11 accidents in 1.7 million miles.


Google is pushing back on an Associated Press report this morning that claims three of the company’s self-driving cars have been involved in accidents since September, when California allowed autonomous vehicles to hit public roads. The report suggests that Google’s driverless cars were involved in property damage incidents at rates higher than the national average of human-driven cars.

Unsurprisingly, Google disagrees. It released updated figures on miles logged: 1.7 million since 2009; the AP originally reported 700,000. Then Chris Urmson, the head of the self-driving initiative inside Google X, authored a post on Medium, for the first time shedding light on figures from the secretive project:

Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 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.

Google declined to comment on the claim about the three accidents since September.

Since the fall, however, the company did admit it has accelerated testing with its 20-plus car fleet, taking it out for 10,000 miles a week. (U.S. drivers average around 13,000 miles a year.) With its project, Google has been adamant about its many safety features, including programming to pause rather than gun ahead when a light turns green. Urmson detailed a few of those measures in an interview with Re/code last May.

Google claims comparing its accident figures with existing ones is a fallacy. Many minor accidents — the dings and fender benders — go unreported when only human-driven cars are involved. Google wants them reported, in part, to prove the need for its autonomous systems. It may be a tricky balancing act for Google to weigh transparency with its self-driving project versus a public image of risky robotics.

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