Google Inc does not blame their eclectic, self-driving cars for the 11 minor accidents that the vehicles have been involved in, in the past six years since the project began.
Although details regarding the circumstances of the accidents remain unknown, Chris Urmson, the head of Google’s autonomous car program, took to social media to defend the vehicles explaining that “we’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway”.
He adds that the company’s self-driving cars have also been side-swiped a couple of times and were even hit once by a car rolling through a stop sign. He credits the “realities of speed and distance” for any and all accidents that the cars have been involved in.
Urmson empathizes that none of the 11 minor accidents were caused by the company’s products and that none of them involved injuries.
Google Inc has been testing its 48 innovative self-driving cars on the roads of California, even issuing license plates in September 2014. A recent report by the state Department of Motor Vehicles has informed that out of all of them, four have been involved in an accident or more in the past eight months. Three of the four were operated by Google, and the fourth one by Delphi Automotive.
Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who has studied many cases with issues about the cars, gave a statement on the subject declaring that unless you have died as a result of the accident, you are most likely in a much better position than if you had been hit by an average, ordinary human-driven car.
Walker Smith’s seemingly favorable comment, takes a turn when he explains the reason why you’d be better off being hit by one of Google’s self-driving vehicles. It’s not necessarily because they’re safer, but because the company that owns them has deep pockets (each car requires a $5 million worth of insurance) and a pressing need to settle any potential lawsuit quickly and generously in order to avoid bad publicity.
Indeed, accidents caused by the self-driving cars are one of Google Inc’s greatest fears. The potential for AIs to turn against humanity has been a popular subject in movies and novels for decades and now it seems that the future is closing in on the present faster than ever.
A particularly ugly accident caused by the products could spell doom for the entire technology and whatever other innovations it might eventually lead to. The general public would find it much harder to accept them on their roads, and would be even less inclined to buy one themselves.
Equally important, Robert W. Peterson, insurance law expert and law professor at Santa Clara University, informs us that if a self-driving car were to hit a pedestrian, California law would favor the person who was hit. He explains that if a car fails to behave in a way that reasonable consumers would typically expect it to behave, that’s considered a defect.
Urmson and his colleagues are however optimistic when it comes to the success and reliability of their products. Google’s self-driving vehicles are equipped to record and store the last 30 seconds of data leading up to an accident, as well as sensors and software than can detect a “sticky situation” and make an appropriate decision faster and sooner than any alert human driver could.
The project has also helped Google learn how human drivers behave, with the big reveal being that people often drive on the wrong side of the road, especially at night.
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