Humans to blame for most self-driving car crashes in California, study shows

August 31, 2018

Computers might be better drivers, after all. That's according to a study compiled by Axios, which said Wednesday that the vast majority of crashes involving self-driving cars in California were not caused by the autonomous vehicles.

Axios studied 54 incidents involving the 55 companies granted autonomous driving permits in California and found that only one could be blamed on a self-driving car that was in autonomous mode. Another six were blamed on the self-driving car when it was in conventional driving mode.

The vast majority of the California crashes were blamed on other drivers or pedestrians.

"At the moment, self-driving car tech doesn't seem to be advanced enough to handle all these humans," Axios said in its conclusion. Axios also pointed out: "In three incidents, humans intentionally attacked a self-driving car, such as by hitting it, or climbing on top of it."

The most publicized crash involving a self-driving car occurred in May in Tempe, Arizona, where a Volvo XC90 fitted with ride-share service Uber's experimental self-driving technology struck and killed a pedestrian pushing a bicycle across a street late at night.

Investigators in Tempe said that in-vehicle camera footage and data from a wireless provider indicated that the human backup driver was likely watching a television show on her smartphone in the moments leading up to impact.

Uber said later that it had disabled the Volvo's built-in automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection in order "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior."

IIHS chief research officer David Zuby argued that the Volvo's system, if left activated, could have prevented the fatality.

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