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Google's Self-Driving Cars Are Safer Than You Think, Even In Bad Weather

11 January 2016, 5:04 am EST By Quinten Plummer Tech Times
Google's self-driving cars had a safe September in California. A VT study backs up Google's claims that self-driving cars are the future of automotive safety.  ( Justin Sullivan | Getty )

Google reported zero accidents involving its driverless cars. The latest progress report to the California DMV regarding the company's self-driving cars comes after a Virginia Tech study concluded that the crash rates for autonomous vehicles are lower than the national average of accidents involving human drivers.

Google has 23 modified Lexus RX450h cars and 30 prototypes designed from the ground up all driving autonomously along the roadways of Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas in December. As the company continues to look for ways to improve its self-driving cars, it's also looking to win over consumers and regulators. The company thus commissioned the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to compare crash data between driverless cars and traditional automobiles.

It wasn't a simple apples-vs-oranges comparison, though. While even the smallest of traffic incidents involving driverless cars are reported, reporting guidelines vary between states and many crashes simply go unreported.

"As self-driving cars continue to be tested and increase their exposure, the uncertainty in their event rates will decrease," the institute's report states.

For now, the data currently available suggests that autonomous vehicles may have lower rates of severe crashes when compared to national rates. But there isn't enough certainty in the data on self-driving cars to "draw this conclusion with strong confidence," the report goes on.

"However, the data also suggest that less-severe events (i.e., Level 3 crashes) may happen at a significantly lower rate for self-driving cars than in naturalistic settings," says the report. 

Meanwhile, Google's work on improving the safety of driverless cars continues as the company attempts to improve the effectiveness of its vehicles' sensors in inclement weather.

"Our laser sensors are able to detect rain, so we have to teach our cars to see through the raindrops and clouds of exhaust on cold mornings, and continue to properly detect objects," Google says in its latest monthly report on its self-driving cars. "We're helped by our diversity of sensors, since our radars have no problem seeing through this sort of clutter."

The company has made sure its cars understand how to handle rain, Google says. If the weather is too bad, the cars will pull over.

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