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Californian state officials reveal driverless car crash numbers for first time

The Californian Department for Motor Vehicles bows to pressure from The Associated Press to reveal details of self-driving car crashes

Six road traffic accidents involving driverless cars have been reported in California since permission was granted to test the vehicles on public roads in September 2014, state officials have confirmed.

Most of the reported accidents occurred while the vehicles were in self-driving mode and were the fault of other drivers, data released by the US Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) shows.

Five of the incidents involved Google self-driving cars, while the sixth featured a vehicle kitted out with technology from parts provider Delphi. The latter was the only crash to result in a police investigation and none of the incidents resulted in serious injuries.

DMV U-turns on data access

Since granting permission for eight manufacturers to test self-driving cars on public roads, the DMV has requested they file a report whenever one of their vehicles is involved in an accident.

The DMV initially denied a request by The Associated Press to share this data, citing state laws that reportedly ban the public disclosure of confidential collision reports.

The news agency then put forward a special records request, arguing it was in public interest for people to know how the vehicles were faring from a safety point of view on the road.

This prompted a U-turn by the DMV, which agreed to release redacted versions that omit the personal information of the drivers, while including details of the time and date the accidents occurred and the types of cars involved.  

In four out of the five accidents involving Google, the vehicles were in self-driving mode. In the case of the Delphi incident, the car was hit while at rest at an intersection.

At the time of writing, the DMV had not commented publicly on the figures.

Google’s track record

In May, Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving car programme, revealed in a blog post that since Google first started testing self-driving cars six years ago there have only been 11 minor accidents reported and, in each case, the driverless vehicle was not to blame.  

“Rear-end crashes are the most frequent accidents in America. Often there’s little the driver in front can do to avoid getting hit,” he wrote.

“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.

“All the experiences we’ve had on the road have been really valuable for our project.  We have a detailed review process and try to learn something from every incident, even if it hasn’t been our fault,” he added.

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