Go Figure, Self-Driving Cars Have A Better Crash Track Record Than Humans

Google Self Driving Car Crashes Less Than Humans  
It may have sounded outlandish when Tesla CEO Elon Musk made the bold visionary claim that some day "human drivers could be outawed," but the latest study out of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture for us modern homo sapiens. Alphabet's Google business unit commissioned a study from the research group and the results show perhaps exactly the trend Musk was referring to. The report focused on minor collisions that Google's 50 vehicle strong self-driving car fleet had logged over the last 6 years. Google's robot AI powered cars racked up just 17 crashes in that time frame, although the company claims "none were the fault of the car," because of course computers don't make errors, humans do. The autonomous fleet has already logged 1.3 million miles in Texas and California.

Accounting for certain variabilities like crashes not reported, the study claims humans are involved in 4.2 crashes per million miles, versus just 3.2 crashes per million miles for self-driving cars in autonomous mode. Further, the study goes on to claim that crash rates for all human-driven vehicles at all severity levels were higher than self-driving car crash rates. And since California law requires all crashes involving autonomous vehicles be reported to the police, you can imagine that if the same were true for human-driven vehicles, the numbers could look worse for us bipeds.

This study of course flies in the face of other studies previously released that claimed just the opposite. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute claimed higher crash rates for autonomous vehicles, when comparing crash data from Google, Delphi and Audi self-driving cars. However, that study was reportedly based on a relatively low number of driverless miles accounted for and doesn't focus just Google driverless cars, like the Virginia Tech study does.

Google recently expressed "grave disappointment" in the California DMV's distrust of driverless cars, when new regulations were set forth in December, mandating that driverless cars would be required to have a steering wheel, pedals, and a licensed driver on board the vehicle, in case they had to take over in an emergency.

It's easy to see how Google is eager to prove driverless vehicles are safe on the roads. Advancement of the technology is paramount on letting those cars explore miles and miles of terrain to hone their chops and refine their driving skills. In the future, with powerful processing engines on board like NVIDIA's new Drive PX2 platform unveiled at CES 2016, it might not be such a stretch to let driverless-cars run free on the roadways unchecked. In the meantime, it's going to take a lot of proven safely driven miles to bring society to the right level of confidence in the technology.

Here's a quick rewind of the interview with NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang where Musk makes his bold claim. It seems far-fetched. Or is it?

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/chijs