California Streets Turning Into Robot Car Laboratories

The latest to turn our streets into a corporate laboratory is BMW with one robot car and driver certified by the  Department of Motor Vehicles. Nine companies are now testing 78 robot cars with 311 approved drivers on California’s highways, underscoring the need for thorough, impartial  investigations of any crashes. 
Google leads the pack with with 48 cars (including 25 prototype cars) and 191 drivers who have been certified by the DMV.  That’s probably why the Internet giant has been in the most accidents — 15.  Delphi, with two cars and nine drivers, has reported one crash.
The  other six  companies testing cars as of Aug. 14, the latest data available,  are: Volkswagen with three cars and 30 drivers,  Mercedes Benz with five cars and 13 drivers,  Tesla with 12 cars and 16 drivers, Bosch LLC  with two cars and 20 drivers, Nissan with three cars and 20 drivers, and Cruise Automation with two cars and 11 drivers.
Earlier this summer the DMV shined  a needed light on the robot car testing process by deciding to release official accident reports with personal information redacted.  It was a significant step forward in helping the public understand what can go wrong when self-driving vehicles share the road with humans.
But it’s far from adequate, which is why Consumer Watchdog this week wrote to the DMV and asked it to amend the accident reporting requirements. 
“The robot car accident reports are prepared and filed by the company doing the testing. Inevitably the companies will present their version of what happened in any crash in the best possible light,” Consumer Watchdog told the DMV. “Relying solely on the word of the testing company is not adequate to protect the legitimate public interest in ensuring robot cars are tested safely.”
The DMV must require that police investigate any crashes involving the test vehicles so they interview the drivers and witnesses and file an independent report. In addition the DMV should require that any data and video gathered by a robot car just before and during a crash should be provided to the department. And, the video and data – with personally identifying information redacted – should be released to the public.
Google’s robot cars have been involved in 15  crashes. Under the current reporting system the DMV – and the public – must rely entirely on the Internet giant’s version of what happened. There is no independent third-party verification.  “Trust us, we’re Google” simply isn’t good enough when our public highways become the company’s laboratory.

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