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Google Opens ­p About When Its Self-Driving Cars Have Nearly Crashed


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One of Google's 53 driverless cars

A new report discloses Googles fleet of driverless cars had 13 near-collisions during their 14-month test period.

Credit: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images

Google's fleet of automated vehicles, currently undergoing testing on roads in California and Texas, have had 13 near-misses in which a driver had to intervene to prevent a collision, according to a new Google report on the tests in California.

The study estimated on 272 occasions in the 14-month test period drivers commandeered the cars due to software failure, while in 69 other incidents the drivers opted to take control to ensure the vehicles operated safely.

The report points to a general decline in technology malfunctions since the fall of 2014. "It seems to be a pretty good sign of progress," says Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project.

However, Princeton University's Alain Kornhauser cautions the cars' performance under easy or favorable road conditions can be deceiving. "It's informative, but it shouldn't be treated as a true measure of the vehicle's safety," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Aaron Steinfeld.

The Google report cited the rate of disengagement, when the cars sense a system failure and ask the test driver to take over, as the most significant area of progress. Although this rate fell in early 2015, it increased late in the year, with Google attributing it to more difficult conditions under which cars were being tested, such as in heavy traffic and inclement weather.

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