Self-driving cars are supposed to improve safety on roadways because they have all sorts of sensors and gadgets to help them avoid accidents. But, it's hard for us to know whether that's true or not because not much is known about self-driving car accidents.
Since September of last year, three self-driving test cars from Google and one test car from Delphi Automotive have been involved in minor accidents in California. According to Chicago Tribune, two of those accidents occurred while the cars were in self-driving mode.
Google and Delphi said their cars were not at fault in any accidents, which the companies said were minor.
Beyond that, they're not saying much. Both the companies making the cars and the California Department of Motor Vehicles are staying mostly mum on the subject and that's a problem.
The fact that neither the companies nor the state have revealed the accidents troubles some who say the public should have information to monitor the rollout of technology that its own developers acknowledge is imperfect.
Even though Google has been testing self-driving cars for several years now, this technology is still relatively new and we don't know much about how it will change the nature of driving. The public needs easy access to the facts about these vehicles, especially the accidents they're involved in, so they can make educated decisions about self-driving cars in the future.
Interest in accidents will remain high, especially if the self-driving car is at fault, said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who has written extensively on the technology.
"For a lot of reasons," Smith said, "more might be expected of these test vehicles and of the companies that are deploying them and the drivers that are supervising them than we might expect of a 17-year-old driver in a 10-year-old car."
There have been no accidents reported by the other five companies licensed to test self-driving cars. Nevada, Michigan and Florida also allow self-driving cars and haven't reported any accidents either.