California DMV Changes Policy; Now Will Release Robot Car Accident Reports

SANTA MONICA, CA – The California Department of Motor Vehicles has reversed its policy and today said it would release accident reports about crashes involving self-driving cars that are being tested on public roads.

“It took too long, but the DMV is now getting right,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The robot cars are being tested on public roads and people have a right to know as much as possible about what goes wrong.”

Personal information like the drivers’ names, the car’s VIN number and the insurer is redacted. In one report filed by Delphi, fault was shown to be determined in a police collision report cited in the document. The other reports involving Google’s vehicles, only gave the company’s synopsis of the crash.

View the six robot car crash reports filed since last September when the DMV began requiring them: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/av_accident_reports_061715.pdf

The DMV also requires an annual report of the circumstances surround any time the robot technology was disengaged and control was assumed by the test driver. Noting that at least one Google accident report said the test driver assumed control, Consumer Watchdog called for full disclosure of the disengagement reports.

“Knowing why the driver took over and how long it took to do so is essential,” said Simpson.

Consumer Watchdog learned that there had been accidents involving Google’s robot cars when the nonprofit nonpartisan public interest group filed a Public Records Act request in March with the DMV seeking communications between Google and the department. However, the DMV then said it treats driverless car accident reports confidentially and would not release them.

After the Associated Press reported there had been crashes with Google and Delphi cars, Google acknowledged its vehicles had been involved in 11 since testing began. The number of Google crashes now stands at 13.

At Google’s annual shareholders meeting earlier this month, Simpson called on Google to release the official accident reports. Two days after the meeting Google began releasing monthly reports about robot car testing that included a synopsis of crashes.

“The official DMV reports offer greater insight with specific information on such things as the vehicle make, the time and date of the crash,” Simpson noted. “When you remember that Google wants to offer a robot car without a steering wheel, brake pedal, or accelerator, it’s imperative we know as much as possible about what goes wrong.”

In releasing the reports Roger J. Sato, Senior Staff Counsel said:

“DMV initially declined to release these reports based on Vehicle Code provisions that require accident reports concerning traffic injuries or fatalities to remain confidential. After further review, DMV has determined that it is possible to release the factual information related to the autonomous vehicle reports, so long as the personal information of the drivers involved in the accidents and other information not disclosable by law is kept confidential.”

Google is testing the most robot cars on California’s roads. As of May 15, the most recent data provided by the DMV shows the Internet giant is testing 23 cars and has 180 drivers. Other companies testing self-driving vehicles on California highways are: VW/Audi, 3 cars, 30 drivers; Mercedes Benz, 3 cars, 12 drivers; Delphi 2 cars, 9 drivers; Tesla, 12 cars, 16 drivers; Bosch 2 cars, 12 drivers and Nissan 3 cars, 18 drivers. In all there were 48 vehicles being tested and 277 test drivers.

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Published by John M. Simpson

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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