Can We Trust Google's Driverless Car After Its First Injury Accident?

Indrani Sengupta
There's no human element behind the wheel, which is frightening. On the other hand, there's no human element behind the wheel, which means no texting/drinking/candy-crushing while driving.

If there’s one thing we can say that humans and computers definitely have in common, it’s this: they crash (and in more ways than one). 

Google revealed this past Thursday that its driverless Lexus SUV prototype was rear-ended in Mountain View on the first of July. The three Google employees on board suffered minor whiplash and were taken to the hospital, though they were cleared to return to work after. The driver of the offending car complained of back and neck pain.

Google has invested a great deal of time and money to pioneer the self-driving car, with the hope that they will prove safer than human drivers. But the driverless cars have been involved in fourteen accidents including this one. Some might say that this doesn’t bode well for the technology.

However, it’s important to consider the specifics. Twenty other prototypes before this one have successfully braved the Mountain View roads without human intervention. Out of the fourteen accidents that Google cars have been involved in, they were responsible for the collisions only once, and that was when an employee took the vehicle out of self-driving mode. He was running an errand when he rear-ended another car. 

Recommended: Human Drivers Keep Crashing Into Google’s Self-Driving Cars

What’s more, all of these accidents took place for six years, and over almost two million miles of testing. As far as stats go, that puts the average human driver to shame. 

Sure, the Google car won’t prevent all accidents, but technology cannot be expected to always anticipate human error. The head of the self-driving car program, Chris Urmson, wrote that his SUVs and “hit surprising often” by distracted drivers:

“The clear theme is human error and inattention. We’ll take all this as a signal that we’re starting to compare favorably with human drivers.”

Maybe the real solution is replacing all human-driven cars with driverless ones. After all, your computer isn’t going to be distracted by a text from that printer it’s been pursuing. 

Read more: Americans Warming Up to Driverless Cars

banner image credit: flickr @ bekathwia