Google autonomous vehicles were stationary in three of five collisions involving driverless cars, as detailed in traffic accident reports released by the California Department of Motor Vehicles Friday. There were no injuries and only minor damage in most of the accidents, which all occurred in Silicon Valley. A sixth report that the California DMV released detailed a no-injury accident involving an autonomously equipped Audi SQ5 owned by supplier Delphi Automotive Systems.
The reports of the accidents, five of them in Google’s headquarters city of Mountain View, California, and the sixth – the Delphi accident – in Palo Alto give insight into the burgeoning testing of autonomous vehicles.
In each report, personal information for both drivers involved has been redacted. California state law considers such accident reports confidential, but the DMV has been under pressure from the Associated Press to make them public. Google also has released information on its 12 driverless car accidents, all without injury, and having occurred during 1.8-million miles of testing, 1.1 million of them in autonomous mode. Google has not tested autonomy, however, where there has been snow or ice.
One of the accidents, on February 26, 2015, could play into fears autonomous car-detractors have about the technology. Google’s autonomously equipped 2011 Lexus RX450h collided with a 2015 Audi S6 at an intersection in which the Google Lexus had the right-of-way.
According to the accident report, the “Lexus AV was traveling northbound … when an Audi sedan traveling westbound … failed to come to a stop at the stop sign at the intersection. … The Audi rolled through the stop sign and struck the right rear quarter panel and right rear wheel of the Lexus AV. Prior to the collision, the Lexus AV’s autonomous technology began applying the brakes in response to its detection of the Audi’s speed and trajectory. Just before the collision, the driver of the Lexus AV disengaged Autonomous Mode and took manual control of the vehicle in response to the application of the brakes by the Lexus AV’s autonomous technology.”
Probably only the most experienced drivers would have been able to speed up and avoid the Audi (and any other obstacles) while in non-autonomous mode. In any case, there’s no detail of any property damage on this particular accident report.
In the other accident in which the AV was moving, on April 7 an autonomously driven Lexus RX450h was inching forward at an intersection, after coming to a complete stop, in order to make a right turn on red. The Lexus “detected a vehicle approaching eastbound … and came to a stop in order to yield to the approaching vehicle. The Google AV was just starting to move (less than 1 mph), when the vehicle following immediately behind it,” a 2011 BMW 3 Series, “which was also attempting to make a right turn [at the intersection] failed to brake sufficiently and struck the Google AV’s bumper at approximately 5 mph.”
Earlier this year, a Google “safety driver” told me the automated test vehicles are programmed to err on the side of caution, after I told him that I thought the system hit the brakes too hard in reacting to another car or a bicyclist pulling into its path. The upshot is that while the Google test technology lacks chauffeur-smoothness, it has chosen minor property damage over potential human injury.
“All occupants of both vehicles involved were uninjured in the collision. The Google AV sustained minimal body damage, and the other vehicle [BMW] sustained no visible body damage.”
In each of the other three accidents involving Google, the Lexus RX450h vehicles were stopped in traffic. On May 30, a 2003 Ford Expedition hit the rear bumper of a Google Lexus, which was stopped behind other traffic at a stoplight, at “approximately” 1 mph. There was no visible damage to the Ford, while the Google Lexus’ rear sensor and bumper “sustained minor damage.”
On April 27, a Google Lexus was stopped at a red light, in the right lane, when a 2000 Toyota Camry tried to pass it in the bike lane on its right and “brushed” one of the Lexus AV’s sensors on the passenger side. There was no damage to either vehicle.
On June 4, a Google Lexus was stopped at a red light behind traffic and was hit by a 2008 Honda Accord at “less than 1 mph,” with “no visible damage” to either vehicle.
In both rear-end accidents, the Google Lexus was stopped for “approximately 17 seconds,” so it appears that Google was able to download such data for police report purposes.
In the Delphi accident, on October 14, 2014, the autonomous Audi was being driven “in conventional mode” and was at a stop sign, when a 2008 Honda Accord coming from the driver’s left side “over the elevated center island … hit the right front of the Audi and continued to go over another center island at 25-30 mph. Honda came to a stop approximately 75-100 yards from impact … Audi vehicle damage includes right fender, bumper/fascia.” Again, no injuries were reported.
The California DMV meanwhile has updated the number of autonomous cars it has registered, so far. As of June 17, they are:
Google: 48 cars, including 25 of the Roush-built prototypes — though fitted with steering wheels and pedals — and 202 drivers.
Delphi: Two cars, nine drivers.
Volkswagen: Three cars, 30 drivers.
Mercedes-Benz: Five cars, 13 drivers.
Tesla: 12 cars, 16 drivers.
Bosch: Two cars, 12 drivers.
Nissan: Three cars, 18 drivers.
Cruise Automation: Two cars, six drivers. (The company says it plans to fit $10,000 aftermarket autopilot systems to 2012 and later Audi A4 or S4 automatics as early as this year.)