So picture this. You’re in the back seat of the car driving around town. You look up to the driver’s seat… but no one’s there!
AHHHH! The car is driving itself? Impossible, right? But self-driving cars are a real thing and they’re being tested in live traffic regularly. And now one has caused the first accident of its kind.
On February 14th, a self-driving Lexus SUV struck a city bus near an intersection in Mountain View, California. The car was powered by technology designed and run by tech company Google. Though Google’s self-driving cars have been involved in accidents before, this was the only known time that one of their vehicles caused a collision (rather than just being struck by another car).
"We clearly bear some responsibility,” admitted Google in a written statement, “because if our car hadn't moved there wouldn't have been a collision.”
Though the Google vehicles are equipped with cameras and gear to allow it to read changes in the road, street lights and signs, and other traffics, law requires that a human driver be in the front seat to takeover in case of a malfunction. This car did have a human driver, but he wasn’t able to react in time to avoid the crash.
For about six years now, tech company Google has been testing and perfecting this technology in a fleet of about two dozen Lexus SUVs in the hopes that self-driving vehicles could be used commonly throughout California. They claim that the cars would be very useful for older or physically impaired people who find driving difficult or impossible. However, critics of this technology, like John M. Simpsons of the nonprofit organization Consumer Watchdog, have pointed to this accident as an example of why these vehicles cannot be relied upon.
“This accident is more proof that robot car technology is not ready for auto pilot and a human driver needs to be able to takeover when something goes wrong,” said Simpson.
This might be true, but accidents do happen. And as of June 2015, Google announced that its vehicles had completed over one MILLION miles of driving without causing an accident. That’s a pretty good record!