Autonomous vehicles crash together in California

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida Headshot
Updated Aug 2, 2018
Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 12.24.16 AM

In a strange twist of fate bordering on the ironic, an autonomous vehicle recently collided with another autonomous vehicle while traveling the streets of San Francisco.

No matter. AV tech still came out ahead according to the autonomous vehicle crash report provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

While both Chevrolet Bolts involved in the June 11 crash are autonomous vehicles owned and operated by GM Cruise, the vehicle at fault had been functioning in conventional mode at the time of the fender bender. That’s according to GM Cruise which, as required by California, reported the incident.

So far for 2018, AV companies have filed 29 accident reports with the DMV. That’s out of a total of 82 collisions since the DMV began tracking such incidents in 2014. For 2017, a total of 28 AV accidents were reported which makes 2018 the worst year yet for AV accidents.

Yes, there are more AVs on the road in California so naturally we can expect to see more accidents. This of course opens the door to even more AV data particularly in congested metros where driving challenges are a constant.

Once an accident occurs, the AV company or companies involved must submit an autonomous vehicle collision report. Here’s what GM Cruise wrote in describing the accident last month between their two Chevy Bolts:

A Cruise autonomous vehicle (“Cruise AV”) was rear-ended while operating in autonomous mode on Bryant Street between 10th Street and 11th Street. The Cruise AV had just made a left turn from 11th Street onto Bryant when a second Cruise autonomous vehicle directly behind operating in conventional mode contacted the rear bumper of the Cruise AV, causing minor scuffs to both vehicles. There were no injuries and the police were not called.

A check box section on the form also allows reporting parties to describe the weather, lighting, roadway surface, roadway conditions, movement preceding collision, type of collision and other factors. Vehicle damage can be noted by shading in boxes of a rectangular graphic that resembles a van (shown above).

Of course, the real irony here is that in a state where businesses face some of the toughest regulations in the nation, AV companies—so long as there’s no major damage or injuries—can work on their own to report these incidents to the state. No government involvement is required.

As we’ve reported before, it’s hard to forget some of these man vs. machine moments. Consider this July 8 incident description, also submitted by GM Cruise:

A Cruise autonomous vehicle (“Cruise AV”) while operating in autonomous mode was involved in an accident on westbound Sutter Street at the intersection of Sansome Street when a jaywalking pedestrian approached the Cruise AV and intentionally stepped up onto the hood of the vehicle while the Cruise AV was stopped at a red light resulting in a dent on the hood. The pedestrian then stepped off and walked away. There were no injuries and the police were not called.

That last line is pretty typical throughout these reports. But in the case of the hood-stomping pedestrian (we’re assuming it’s a man, but who knows), it would have been a good time to call the police. AVs are clearly marked and easy to spot. While this pedestrian may have had Luddite leanings, we’ll never know. The offender may habitually walk on the hoods of any vehicles that get in his way. (Good luck doing that with a Class 8 rig.)

So yes it’s wrong that the police were not notified and that this person got away with property damage. It’s also wrong that no video was released. Doing so would have generated a mountain of sympathy for the nerdy Bolt, put like-minded half-wits on notice and brought in a gazillion hits for media outlets around the globe. And who knows? Maybe it would have led to an arrest, a hefty fine and several ‘be nice’ indoctrination classes.

Following some unsavory headlines involving AVs, the burgeoning technology needs all the help it can get. Hopefully, the next time a Chevy Bolt or any other AV in California is trampled underfoot, the police will be notified and a video will make the rounds. No one—even if they reside at the nation’s capital of all things rebellious—should get away with intentional property damage.