MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — Google has acknowledged that its self-driving cars have been involved in 11 crashes during the past six years of testing.
In a blog post on Backchannel, Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car program, wrote: "If you spend enough time on the road, accidents will happen whether you're in a car or a self-driving car. Over the six years since we started the project, we've been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries)."
Urmson noted that those incidents occurred during the course of 1.7 million miles of driving — both manual and autonomous — by the company's fleet of more than 20 automated vehicles.
"The cars have self-driven nearly a million of those miles," he wrote, "and we're now averaging around 10,000 self-driven miles a week (a bit less than a typical American driver logs in a year), mostly on city streets."
Urmson stressed that "not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident."
In seven of the cases, he wrote, the Google cars were hit from behind, in two instances they were side-swiped, and in one crash the Google vehicle was hit by a car rolling through a stop sign.
Urmson said that Google's team of test drivers have seen all kinds of bizarre behavior by other motorists, including weaving in and out of lanes, reading books and even one guy playing a trumpet.
"All the crazy experiences we've had on the road have been really valuable for our project," he wrote. "We have a detailed review process and try to learn something from each incident, even if it hasn't been our fault."
Still, the disclosure of Google's crash record comes at a time when many consumers remain leery of the technology. In a recent Harris Poll of 2,276 U.S. adults, 52 percent of respondents said they believe autonomous vehicles would be dangerous for those inside them, 57 percent think they would be a hazard to others on the road, and 61 percent say they would be a threat to pedestrians.
Only 7 percent of those surveyed saw no drawbacks to self-driving cars, and 33 percent of respondents said they will never consider buying or leasing one.
Concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles prompted the nonprofit public-interest group Consumer Watchdog to call on Google to release the reports of accidents involving its driverless cars that have been filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles and to commit to making public all future accident reports.
Consumer Watchdog said it filed a formal request for the records with the Department of Motor Vehicles but was told that accident reports are confidential, and the request was denied.
In a letter to Google CEO Larry Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director, John M. Simpson, wrote: "It is important that the public know what happened. You are testing driverless vehicles on public highways, quite possibly putting other drivers at risk."
Simpson continued: "Google has engaged in a highly visible public relations campaign extolling the supposed virtues of driverless cars. It is incumbent upon you to be candid about the cars' failings and shortcomings as well."
Although not responding directly to Simpson's letter, Urmson wrote in his blog: "We'll continue to drive thousands of miles so we can all better understand the all too common incidents that cause many of us to dislike day to day driving and we'll continue to work hard on developing a self-driving car that can shoulder this burden for us."
Edmunds says: An interesting snapshot of how self-driving cars and traditional vehicles interact on the road.