Driverless Cars Involved in California Car Crashes

Jan. 21, 2019

As autonomous car companies push to get their vehicles out on the roads, more of the self-driving vehicles are involved in car crashes. Most of the car crashes are minor incidents involving very little damage to vehicles, but there are some crashes that have resulted in fatalities. Consumers are watching to see how safe autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles are, but not many states have strict rules regarding accident reporting, making it difficult to gather data. 

Cruise and Waymo Have Highest Number of Accidents

As autonomous car companies push to get their vehicles out on the roads, more of the self-driving vehicles are involved in car crashes. Most of the car crashes are minor incidents involving very little damage to vehicles, but there are some crashes that have resulted in fatalities.

Consumers are watching to see how safe autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles are, but not many states have strict rules regarding accident reporting, making it difficult to gather data. 

Cruise and Waymo Have Highest Number of Accidents 

California is one state where autonomous vehicle makers test their products and are required to file yearly accident reports outlining every crash or incident involving their vehicles.  This requirement allowed Tech.co to gather data regarding self-driving car crashes. 

According to Tech.co, Cruise (owned by GM) and Waymo (owned by Google) are involved in the highest number of crashes. Cruise has 51 accidents under its belt while Waymo has 37.

Fatal Tesla Autopilot Crash Occurred in California

One of the more infamous crashes involving an autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle was the March 23 crash involving a Tesla Model X. Tech.co did not include that crash in its analysis because the car is not autonomous, but the vehicle is semi-autonomous, with features meant to make it safer than those that rely more heavily on human drivers. In the autopilot mode, the driver used advanced driver assistance features including traffic-aware cruise control and autosteer lane-keeping assistance. 

Which occurred as the vehicle traveled along Highway 101 in Mountain View, California. According to the NTSB, the driver used the Model X’s autopilot system four times over the course of the 32-minute trip. The final time autopilot was engaged was for the 18 minutes and 55 seconds leading up to the crash.

During that time, the car alerted the driver to place his hands on the steering wheel through two visual warnings and one auditory warning, each of which were given more than 15 minutes before the crash. In the minute before the crash, the driver’s hands were on the steering wheel three times for a total of 34 seconds, but in the final six seconds before the crash, they were not detected on the wheel.

In the moments prior to the crash, the Tesla was traveling at around 65 miles per hour behind a lead vehicle. Seven seconds before the accident, the Tesla steered left while still following a vehicle but by four seconds before the crash, it was no longer behind any vehicle. The Model X then sped up from 62 miles per hour to 70.8 miles per hour when it crashed into an attenuator at the end of a concrete median. 

Although the speed limit in the area was 65 miles per hour, the vehicle’s cruise control was set to 75 miles per hour. After it hit the attenuator, the Tesla spun and collided with a Mazda and an Audi. The Tesla ultimately caught fire and although bystanders pulled the Tesla’s driver from the car, he died in the hospital from his injuries. The other drivers involved in the crash did not suffer serious injuries. 

Most Autonomous Car Crashes Happen at Low Speeds 

Unlike the Tesla crash, most driverless cars crash at low speeds but that may be because that is how they are driven most frequently. Crashes tend to occur at stop signs, lights, or intersections and Tech.co theorizes this may be because the cars are programmed to drive cautiously, which other drivers around them are not used to.

There are other factors at play in intersections, as well. Human drivers can see each other and recognize when another driver is paying attention. They can predict whether the other driver is about to pull out into the intersection based on the other driver’s actions behind the wheel, something autonomous cars cannot yet do.

A report by Wired indicates that the majority of accidents involving autonomous cars are rear-ended accidents, followed by sideswipes. Most of the rear-end accidents occurred in autonomous mode, making it possible that the self-driving vehicles are driving in a way that increases the risk of a rear-end accident. While the majority of self-driving car crashes are minor and do not involve significant injury, as the vehicles become more widely driving across a broader spectrum of conditions, chances are there will be an increase in significant accidents.

Car Accident Attorneys 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car crash, attorneys at Cutter Law can help you. Our attorneys are available to explain your options and answer your questions. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

Personal injury and civil justice attorney Brooks Cutter is a leading advocate for consumer justice and protecting the rights of the severely injured. Brooks founded Cutter Law, P.C., with offices in Sacramento and Oakland, with…
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