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People cause most California autonomous vehicle accidents

Data: State of California Department of Motor Vehicles; Note: As of August 24, 2018; Icon: Guilhem/The Noun Project; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A year since Axios first examined the data, there are now 55 companies with self-driving car testing permits in California and 54 new accidents, based on filings of incident reports in the state. But one thing has remained constant: Humans continue to be the cause of most accidents.

By the numbers: All those beige cars in the chart above indicate incidents where autonomous vehicles were not considered "at fault" — that is, people were. Even when AVs are at fault, that's most often been in cases where humans were at the wheel ("conventional mode").

The bottom line: Unless self-driving cars magically replace all conventional cars in the country overnight, robots will have to drive alongside humans. What’s more, they’ll have to drive alongside pedestrians, cyclists and other humans with whom they share the road. And at the moment, self-driving car tech doesn't seem to be advanced enough to handle all these humans.

  • This is in part why some companies are deploying their first vehicles on specific routes or defined regions, where the cars will interact with a limited set of surprises. For example, Drive.ai is starting in an office park in Frisco, Texas, while Voyage got its start giving rides to residents in retirement communities, and May Mobility is developing shuttles for company and school campuses.
  • Recently, artificial intelligence expert Andrew Ng also suggested (stirring up some controversy) that it’s pedestrians who need to improve their behavior and train to maneuver safely around self-driving cars.

Yes, but: It’s still hard to compare self-driving car accident rates to those of human drivers, despite the widespread hope that self-driving cars will be much safer than humans, as University of Central Florida professor Peter Hancock pointed out in a blog post.

One new thing: In three incidents, humans intentionally attacked a self-driving car, such as by hitting it, or climbing on top of it.

Flashback: Axios’s first look at the data in August 2017