Google’s self-driving cars still need drivers

Here’s an interesting statistic: in the last 14 months, autonomous cars have nearly been in at least 13 crashes and have needed to revert to manual control 341 times, according to a new report filed by Google with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

But while those two numbers serve as a great cursory overview of how Google’s autonomous vehicles performed in their first year on the road, they’re not the whole story.

In order for these innovations in automobile technology to be out on the road, the state of California required drivers to be behind the hopefully never-to-be-used wheel. Therefore, they required a special license and, more importantly, for Google to hand over any and all information they collect on how the cars perform in the real world.

That data, which was released for the first time today after the Mountain View company filed its first annual report with the DMV, shows some surprising results.

Over the past 14 months, 49 self-driving cars tallied a total of 424,000 miles. In that time, the cars suffered 341 disengagements, basically what Google is identifying as a time when the car handed control back to the driver or when the driver felt the need to take over.

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Of those 341 incidents, 272 of them were caused by a technology failure, which by Google’s definition range in severity from minor communication breakdowns to a problem with steering or the brakes.

Now, when faced with one of problems, it’s up to the driver to decide to act or let everything play out and see if he/she ends up on the wrong side of a car crash.

The result? A driver only felt the need to intervene 69 times. So, in over a year of driving a driver only felt the need to do something 69 times? That’s not shabby. However, of the 69 times the driver did take over, Google admitted that 13 of them would’ve resulted in “simulated contacts” had a driver not taken the wheel.

While the numbers are promising, it looks like Google’s autonomous vehicles aren’t quite ready to cut humans out of the picture after all.

  • Need a fully non-autonomous car to drive while you wait? Check out our review of the Chevrolet Bolt!

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