Google reported that on July 1 a motorist smashed into one of its stationary autonomous vehicles at 17 mph, resulting in minor whiplash to passengers in both cars and causing the offending car's front bumper to fall off. This is the first reported accident involving injuries. The three Google employees who were riding in the car were taken to a local hospital where they were treated for minor whiplash before being released. The driver of the other car also reported having neck and back pain.
Google's SUV was going about 15 mph in self-driving mode behind two other cars as the group approached an intersection with a green light. The first car slowed to a stop so as not to block the intersection — traffic on the far side was not moving. The Google car and the other car in front of it also stopped. Within about a second, a fourth vehicle rear-ended the Google car at about 17 mph. On-board sensors showed the other car did not brake.
In California, a person must be behind the wheel of a self-driving car being tested on public roads to take control in an emergency. Google typically sends another employee in the front passenger seat to record details of the ride on a laptop. In this case, there was also a back seat passenger.
This is after reports to the California Department of Motor Vehicles that its gadget-packed Lexus SUVs had been hit twice in the rear bumper while waiting at stop lights in Mountain View.
"We're seeing first-hand the true measure of how distraction is impacting driving," Google self-driving car project director Chris Urmson told USA TODAY. "None of our accidents rise to the level of police reports. So what we are experiencing is what the road is really like."
According to a Google statement, “One of our Lexus vehicles was driving autonomously towards an intersection in Mountain View, CA. The light was green, but traffic was backed up on the far side, so three cars, including ours, braked and came to a stop so as not to get stuck in the middle of the intersection. After we’d stopped, a car slammed into the back of us at 17 mph — and it hadn’t braked at all.”
Google claims the braking was normal and natural. “The vehicle behind us had plenty of stopping distance — but it never decelerated. This certainly seems like the driver was distracted and not watching the road ahead. Thankfully, everyone in both vehicles was okay, except for a bit of minor whiplash, and a few scrapes on our bumper. The other vehicle wasn’t so lucky; its entire front bumper fell off.”
The accident doesn’t seem to be the fault of the Google car. This accident was the result of human error. But it does seem as if there is going to be lots of work yet for collision repair centers even if a substantial number of driverless cars exist.
Since 2009, Google’s self-driving cars have been involved in 14 accidents, and according to Chris Urmson, not once has the driverless car been at fault. Those Google-logoed Lexuses have been rear-ended 11 times – including twice last month – which is an remarkably small ratio considering that its 25 car fleet has driven 1.9 million miles during that six-year period.