Driverless Cars Not Safe Enough For Public Roads, Tests Results Suggest

Autonomous technology is not safe for public highways according to a study by a consumer interests body.

This comes following reports demanded by the California Department of Motor Vehicles from companies currently testing driverless cars on the state’s highways. According to the Consumer Watchdog, the reports reveal that current technology is not robust enough to function without human control. The reports submitted by the companies show the number of instances when a human driver had to take control of the autonomous vehicle to prevent an accident while testing on public roads.

Uber worst performer

Results from Uber showed their cars required human intervention at least once for every mile driven while Waymo and Cruise were able to drive thousands of miles before intervention was needed.

In 2018 robot cars were recorded driving more than two million miles on California public roads, up from the 500,000 miles driven in 2017. Reports from Uber showed the worst rates of humans having to seize control of a robot car with Uber notching up a huge 70,165 interventions for only 26,899 autonomous miles tested, or 2.6 human interventions per mile driven. Next worst came from tests conducted by Mercedes-Benz which reported 1,194 interventions for 1,749 miles tested or one intervention for every 1.46 miles driven.

The most reliable test results came from Waymo, formerly Google’s autonomous vehicle unit, clocked up about 1.25 million miles. It reported a test driver took over control in 76 instances, or once every 16,447 miles. The failure rate is much better than the same period in 2017 when Waymo’s cars drove 352,544 miles on California’s roads and reported 63 human interventions, or one every 5,596 miles. Last October Waymo became the only company to receive a permit to test without a human driver in the vehicle.

During the same period last year, General Motors’ Cruise division, which previously claimed it would put robot cars on the road in 2019, drove 447,621 miles in San Francisco and suffered 86 human intervention incidents or one every 5,205 miles.

Robo crashes rise

On top of the human intervention reports, the state found an increase in the amount of crashes involving the autonomous test mules with companies reporting 75 collisions in 2018, compared to 29 reports in 2017. Cruise reported 22 crashes in 2017 and 36 in 2018.

Adam Scow, senior advocate for Consumer Watchdog, said: “Despite all of the hype and promises, these reports show that robot cars aren’t safe without human drivers ready to take over. While some companies are gradually improving, others are crawling out of the gates. Much more testing and improvement is needed before regulators can consider approving driverless cars for our roads.”

While 62 companies are licensed to test autonomous vehicles in California, only those companies that tested on public roads reported disengagement numbers for 2018. Tesla claimed it tests on public roads around the world but did not report any tests in California.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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