Much Ado About Nothing: ’Close Call’ Between Two Self-Driving Cars Blown Completely Out Of Proportion

It was reported yesterday that there was a "close call" between two prototype self-driving cars from separate companies (Google and Delphi). The so-called "incident" involved an Audi Q5 crossover vehicle from Delphi that was planning to change lanes. Before it could, a self-driving Lexus RX400h crossover from Google entered the lane first, causing the Audi Q5 to stay put.

While Google has declined comment, Delphi is taking exception to Reuters calling what happened a close call rather than just a routine driving scenario.

The folks at ArsTechnica spoke with John Absmeir, director of Delphi's Silicon Valley lab who was also the passenger in the Audi Q5 that temporarily aborted a lane change. According to Absmeir, the Audi Q5 took "appropriate action," plain and simple.

Self-driving car

Delphi spokeswoman Kristin Kinley elaborated a bit more on the topic.

"I was there for the discussion with Reuters about automated vehicles," Kinley told ArsTechnia. "The story was taken completely out of context when describing a type of complex driving scenario that can occur in the real world. Our expert provided an example of a lane change scenario that our car recently experienced which, coincidentally, was with one of the Google cars also on the road at that time. It wasn’t a 'near miss' as described in the Reuters story."

According to Kinley, the Audi Q5 "did exactly what it was supposed to." Once it saw the Google car move into lane that it too was planning to move into, the Audi Q5 detected that it was occupied and waited until it was clear again.

This is the sort of uphill battle companies like Google and Delphi face with self-driving cars. To help ease the fears, Google earlier this month promised to be more transparent about accidents involving its self-driving vehicles. Towards that end, Google revealed that its self-driving cars have been involved in 11 accidents over the course of 1.7 million miles of testing, and in each of those cases, it was the other car and driver's fault.

“We’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway,” said Chris Urmson, Director of Google's self-driving car program, in May. “We see more accidents per mile driven on city streets than on freeways; we were hit 8 times in many fewer miles of city driving."