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California DMV Finally Reveals Data on Self-Driving Car Accidents

State of California DMV (Department of motor vehicles) signage. Pedestrian road sign behind.

Although it took some effort, California state officials released reports detailing six accidents involving self-driving car prototypes. This was a reversal of a policy that had shielded data on how the next-generation technology is performing during testing on public roads. Of course, the way auto insurance rates would be calculated in the future remains a well-guarded secret.

After all – most car insurance companies will have to consider the self-driving cars’ safety record rather than the driver himself, who will have a limited role behind the controls.

The recent disclosure was in response to The Associated Press successfully arguing that the Department of Motor Vehicles was improperly withholding the information. According to the reports obtained, most of the cars were in self-driving mode when the accidents happened, and the driver of the other vehicle was responsible for the accident.

None of the crashes were serious enough to cause injury to the person the state requires to sit behind the wheel. In addition, the reports say none of the people in the other cars were treated for injuries either.

Tech giant Google and parts supplier Delphi Automotive — the companies that operate the cars — submitted their own accounts of the accidents. However, police officials have only confirmed investigating the Delphi crash.

With Google leading the way, self-driving cars have been running on public roads since 2009. Until now, the agency said it could not reveal details about self-driving car accidents, citing state law making collision reports confidential. The fact that the agency refused to make the reports available bothered critics of the policy, who claimed the public should know how the cars of the future were faring on the roads today.

Following the DMV’s denial of the public records request, AP argued that the agency was incorrectly citing the confidentiality requirement and that the public has an interest in understanding how these experimental vehicles are performing as they drive public streets and highways.

Currently, seven companies are licensed to test 48 self-driving cars in California, but Google’s 23 prototype vehicles have the most miles driven (about 1.8 million). In recent weeks, Google has become more open about the number and nature of its accidents.

In California, a driver is required to report to the DMV any accident involving more than $750 of property damage. And, once his or her auto insurance hears about it, the general rule is getting socked with much higher insurance rates.

But, apparently, this was not the case with Google. A spokeswoman could not say whether the company had filed reports on any of the initial eight accidents to the DMV, and said she could not provide damage estimates because repairs were done in-house, without a bill.

With four accidents in the past approximately 100,000 miles, Google’s recent accident rate appears to be higher than the federally reported national average. About 0.3 “property-damage-only crashes” occur per 100,000 miles driven, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, no new figures were offered by the NHTSA since Google self-driving car project leader Chris Urmson’s revelation in a blog post that its cars had been involved in eight other previously unreported accidents between 2010 and July 2014. Still, Google officials have continuously said they are proud of their safety record – pointing out that as many as 5 million minor accidents go unreported to authorities each year and indicating that the cluster of “fender benders” in recent months is a more accurate reflection of the true rate at which minor accidents happen.

Unfortunately, the car insurance standards that apply to experimental vehicles don’t apply to us. That’s why we’re constantly in search of the best auto insurance rates we can find. Start your search by getting your free California auto insurance quotes today?

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