Google wants to take over our highways the way it has taken over the information superhighway. Its driverless cars are a lot closer to road domination than many people think.
Back in 2012 Google announced that its robo rides had completed 300,000 miles of test driving without a single accident, making them safer than the average American driver (who is involved in an accident about every 165,000 miles).
This week the tech giant said that its self-driving vehicles have completed 1.7 million miles of travel in six years of testing. The number of accidents, it admitted, is 11.
However, Google said none of the crashes were the fault of its technology. A Google publicist pointed us to this statement:
Over the six 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.
That's still a stellar record compared to, say, your mom's driving. But the Santa Monica–based nonprofit Consumer Watchdog isn't impressed.
The group recently wrote a letter to Google demanding that it release accident reports filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
"It's outrageous that they're not giving us the details," says Consumer Watchdog privacy project director John M. Simpson. "It's incumbent on them to be crystal clear on how it happened. They're on public highways putting the public at risk."
Simpson told us that it filed Public Records Act requests that revealed Google cars were involved in as many as four accidents, which is four more than the Mountain View company had ever revealed.
The Associated Press then followed up on Consumer Watchdog's request and recently found that the driverless cars were involved in a reported total of 11 accidents.
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The DMV is keeping the details under wraps, arguing that accident reports, like those taken after your mom's fender bender, are private. However, Consumer Watchdog argues that this is a unique situation in which Google was given special permission by the state to test its cars on taxpayers' roads.
Simpson says he doesn't trust Google's claim that the 11 accidents were not the fault of its vehicles: "Anytime someone reports an accident, the first words out of their mouths are, 'It wasn't my fault.'"
He said it's possible that his group will lobby lawmakers to force Google to reveal the details of those accidents.