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DMV reports on self-driving car accidents

California disclosure comes following challenge from media organization

After a back and forth with The Associated Press, the California Department of Motor Vehicles this week turned over data related to traffic accidents involving the self-driving cars being tested on West Coast highways.

The information released by the DMV detailed six accidents involving self-driving vehicles.

From the AP’s report: “Most of the cars were in self-driving mode when the accidents happened, and the other driver caused the accident. None of the crashes was serious enough to cause injuries, either to the person the state requires to sit behind the wheel or people in the other cars.”

The DMV initially denied the AP’s request for records pertaining to the self-driving cars.

“Unlocking these records and sharing them with the public are in keeping with AP‘s longstanding efforts nationwide to bring about greater transparency in government agencies,” AP spokesman Paul Colford said.

Self-driving cars have been tested on public roads since at least 2009, although DMV permitting didn’t start until September.

Earlier this year Google released information related to accidents involving its own proprietary fleet of autonomous test vehicles. The numbers reported by Google tally more accidents than those reported by the DMV.

In Google’s history of testing self-driving vehicles, the cars have covered 1.7 million miles in six years.

Chris Urmson detailed what his group has learned in a May 11 blog post on Backchannel.

He reported that the fleet of 20-plus Google cars has covered all that ground – about 1 million miles autonomously, the remainder under manual control – and was only involved in 11 minor accidents resulting in light damage and no injuries.

“Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” Urmson wrote.

He gave an overview of the accidents: “We’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway. We’ve also been side-swiped a couple of times and hit by a car rolling through a stop sign. And as you might expect, we see more accidents per mile driven on city streets than on freeways; we were hit eight times in many fewer miles of city driving. All the crazy experiences we’ve had on the road have been really valuable for our project.”

Urmson presented some jarring statistics including the tally of 33,000 deaths on American roads each year and 660,000 drivers distracted by mobile devices behind the wheel at any given time.

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