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PHOTO CAPTION: Google autonomous, self-driving electric car.

Google Autonomous Cars Hit the Street

Google is about to unleash its self-driving cars on the roads of Mountain View this summer.

Published: 20-May-2015

Google recently reported that its self-driving cars have been involved in 11 minor traffic accidents over the course of six years and nearly 1.7 million miles of operation. In all those cases, Google's Chris Urmson contends, it was the other driver's fault.

With a safety record averaging 0.64 accidents per 100,000 miles (according to NHSTA, the rate of accidents with 'property damage only' in 2012 was around 0.38 per 100,000 miles, notes Gizmag), Google is planning to trial a few of its 25 self-driving cars on the streets around its Mountain View, California headquarters starting this summer.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents annually with some 3,300 deaths and more than 420,000 injuries per year. In fact, one-in-five collisions are the result of driver distraction, the most common being cellphone use and texting. Google's Urmson even reports his self-driving car team seeing one individual playing a trumpet while driving. Letting the car do the driving can free up the human to focus on other tasks or pleasures from putting on make-up to answering emails.

But where self-driving cars will be of most value is in giving people currently limited in their mobility by physical impairments and/or age, like those in the video below, the ability to again engage with their communities. Interestingly, Google selected representatives from those affected groups to be the first to ride in the steering wheel-less car.

What we don't know, and we've reached out to Google and to Chris, is the operational specifics of Google's two-passenger neighborhood electric vehicle or NEV. Operating as a NEV under federal rules, its top speed will be limited to 25 mph initially. To go any faster will require the use of airbags and extensive crash testing. Hopefully, we can talk with Urmson in the near future to learn more about the little jellybean-shaped runabout, including what are Google's plans beyond the handful of prototypes. With a rapidly aging population globally, the advent of self-driving, careshare vehicles like it will be huge boon to both baby boomers and megacity urbanites.

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