It could certainly be argued that our current laws are rather insufficient when it comes to appropriately attributing blame in the case of a motoring accident. As an example: it can be considered failure to yield if your car is hit by another while pulling out of a parking spot, for instance, even if your vision is obscured by massive SUVs on both sides, you take it slow, and the driver of the other vehicle is blasting down the aisle at 60 mph, or checking his Twitter feed from behind the wheel, or restringing his fiddle – or, quite possibly, some combination of the three.
It should come as little surprise to anyone that similar examples can be found in the world of autonomous vehicles, and a recent piece by GM Inside News is chock full of them.
GMI reports that Cruise Automation’s fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs testing in San Francisco were involved in 22 accidents throughout 2017 for which they were found not at-fault, although the details tend to suggest at least some culpability.
In June, one of the autonomous Chevrolet Bolts traveling 7 mph down the road braked for a bus up ahead that was pulling away from the curb, possibly contributing to the rear-end collision it suffered at the hands of a minivan behind it. Later, in September, a car next to one of the self-driving EVs swerved a bit in its own lane. The Bolt responded – again – by braking suddenly, leaving the vintage BMW 633 CSi behind to rear-end it.
About a month later, one of Cruise Automation‘s autonomous Chevrolet Bolts braked when it came upon a pedestrian that it apparently thought might step out into traffic. Care to guess what happened to that Bolt? Yep; it was rear-ended by the Toyota Corolla following behind it.
To be clear, some of the crashes were connected to behaviors other than sudden deceleration, although GMI says that 62 percent of accidents involving autonomous vehicles are of the rear-ending variety – about double the rate for human drivers. More broadly, Super Cruise’s autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs appear to be displaying behavior that human drivers aren’t accustomed to, which seems to be contributing to collisions.
The chances overall of having an accident are also much higher for robots than for humans. The number of miles a human will drive, on average, before having an accident is around 500k. The average miles between accidents for an autonomous vehicle: 42,017, according to an analysis of accident reports by researchers from the University of San Jose.
That average distance between crashes will almost certainly go up as the technology improves, and of course, it could be argued that autonomous vehicle behavior would be totally acceptable were every other car around them also autonomous, and able to decelerate safely in an instant. Even still, it doesn’t seem that self-driving technology will be the immediate, perfect, crash-free method of transport that automakers would have us believe – not straight away, at least.