While most car maker’s autonomous car features are limited to certain scenarios, some companies, especially Google, envision a future where the driver can confidently say, “Look Ma, no hands!” That future, however, might still be a long time coming, despite how much Google and others brag about their safety records. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles just released reports of seven companies that have been permitted to test self-driving cars. And while negative incidents are relatively low, they are still not low enough to match the promise of human-free safety that these cars make.
Given Google’s pioneering and sometimes extreme views on self-driving cars, a lot of attention is poured over its performance. In the 424,000 miles its driverless, but not human-less, cars traveled, there have been 341 instances where human intervention was required for safety. 11 of those would have resulted in collisions. Nissan has a substantially lower distance traveled, only 1,485 in public roads, but already it reported 106 incidents.
No one and nothing is perfect, you might say, but that is exactly the point as well. Human error is often times the culprit in vehicular accidents. The proposition of self-driving vehicles, at least the way Google sees it, is to take away that error-prone element with a more precise and sophisticated computer-based system. But computers do still make errors. Luckily, humans were also involved in correcting them.
Of course, it’s too early to say that self-driving cars won’t fly (or drive) in the future. It’s just too soon to say that they won’t need humans behind the wheel. That might be more problematic for Google than others, as the tech giant, who is rumored to be eying an Uber-like service, sans the driver. California, however, is eying regulations that would require a qualified human, in other words a licensed and trained operator, to be behind the wheel at all times, whether or not his or her hands are actually on the wheel.