Various types of accidents involving self-driving cars have made the headlines in 2018. Some examples include an Apple car getting rear-ended in August near Silicon Valley, a Waymo van being T-Boned in May in Arizona, and the most famous one, an Uber crashing into and killing a woman crossing the street in March, also in Arizona. Most Autonomous Vehicle developers do their on-road testing in five states: California, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. California, however, is the only one that requires detailed reports of the company’s programs. Every year, the companies must report how many miles autonomous vehicles have driven and how many times the test driver has taken command of the wheel. Every time an accident takes place, an accident report must be submitted within ten days as well.
So far, in 2018 California has received 49 accident reports. Although many are minor, it should be observed that autonomous vehicles are often moving in ways humans do not expect. Of the 49 accident reports, 29 have come from GM Cruise, and 57% have been rear-ended accidents, nearly two-thirds. That 57% represents 28 accidents, and 22 of those have been while the autonomous vehicle is in autonomous mode. That could be due to the car stopping suddenly, or simply for no reason. This indicates a conservative focus on safety, but either way, part of driving is doing in a way that others expect. GM Cruise expressed that testing in the streets of California leads to much more learning than in the ‘boring’ streets of Arizona.
Matthew Johnson-Roberson, co-director of the Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicles at the University of Michigan, says “Should they (Autonomous Vehicle Companies) all be allowed to be on public roads before passing some level of baseline performance? My personal advice is to treat the vehicles incredibly cautiously.” California requires an application to be completed for the right to test Autonomous Vehicles in public, but it doesn’t involve any kind of exam.
On the other side, Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, says “We’re not going to make vehicles that break laws just to do things like a human would… If drivers are aware of fact that Autonomous Vehicles are being lawful, and that’s fundamentally a good thing because it’s going to lead to safer roads, then I think there may be a better interaction between humans and AVs.”
In order to make sure the public is aware of how autonomous vehicles are expected to behave, maybe the companies in charge should communicate honestly and directly with the public rather than release edited marketing videos. The autonomous vehicles being tested could also perhaps have signs on them indicating the rest of street drivers that they are near an autonomous vehicle that could behave in different ways.
This information indicates that as long as autonomous vehicles are being tested in public streets, they could behave in ways that human drivers might not expect. For this reason, everyone should make sure to be extra careful and keep their distance when driving around self-driving car prototypes in order to avoid accidents.