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GM Boosts Number of Self-Driving Cars—and Self-Driving Car Accidents

By: Bridget Clerkin October 11, 2017
As General Motors expands its self-driving fleet, like the Chevrolet Bolt pictured here, its cars have been involved in an expanding number of accidents.

More models, more problems? General Motors may be learning that lesson the hard way. 

The Detroit automaker has more than tripled the size of its self-driving fleet over the past year—jumping from 30 vehicles in October 2016 up to 100 automated autos currently, all registered for testing in California. 

The expanding group of driverless rides are indicative of the company’s increasing focus on the automated vehicle market. Last month, it announced its intention to create the first mass-produced self-driving car. And GM already seems to have gotten the hang of putting the vehicles together quickly: a majority of the new self-driving autos were added to the fleet in the last 3 months

But it seems even the behemoth automaker can’t avoid the law of averages. With more test cars on the road than ever, the company has also seen a jump in self-driving accidents.

Automated Chevys were involved in 6 traffic incidents in San Francisco in September alone.

The company’s officials, along with those at its self-driving subsidiary, Cruise Automation, which produces the driverless technology for the cars, said none of the accidents were the fault of its autos—and spoke instead of the unpredictability of crowded city streets.

“Anyone who has visited San Francisco knows driving here is kind of ridiculous,” Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt wrote in an essay on the website Medium. “Our vehicles encounter challenging (and often absurd) situations up to 46 times more often than other places self-driving cars are tested. Perhaps for this reason, nobody else is regularly testing self-driving cars in SF.”

Still, September wasn’t the first time the company saw a streak of traffic scuffles. GM’s vehicles were the only automated car to be involved in a self-driving accident in California at all through May, June, and July, racking up 4 total incidents. (In each of those cases, the driverless cars were also not found at fault.)

While the Golden State is stricter than most others that allow automated vehicle testing, as it considers such accidents public information, a new group of federal proposals on the technology—which seem poised to become law—would classify driverless crashes as “confidential business information,” meaning they would not have to be publicly disclosed. And the adoption of such legislation could dovetail neatly with GM rolling mass-produced automated vehicles off the assembly line, leaving the company—and all others in the self-driving game—off the hook for reporting any incidents in the rapidly expanding market.

Hopefully by then, GM will be focused on quality and quantity, and have more testing—and less crashing—under its belt.

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