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July 21, 2015

US: Senator suggests private road tests for autonomous cars

A US politician has suggested autonomous cars would better being tested on private roads rather than public.

A US politician has suggested autonomous cars would better being tested on private roads rather than public.

Michigan Democratic senator Gary Peters, a member of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, who has authored several bills on advanced vehicle technologies, was commenting after Google disclosed injuries in its latest accident involving a prototype, according to a Reuters report.

Self-driving vehicles would be tested on public roads in Michigan in 2016, but “it’s better to start in a closed facility” such as Mcity, a 32-acre University of Michigan facility opened this week “where companies can conduct more extreme tests,” Peters said in an interview with the news agency, adding: “It is an incredibly hazardous environment to be out on the streets.”

Google, developing self-driving cars since 2009, had said earlier three of its employees were injured in a 1 July incident in California when one of its self-driving prototypes was rear-ended by another vehicle.

“Our self-driving cars are being hit surprisingly often by other drivers who are distracted and not paying attention to the road,” wrote Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, in a blog post. “The clear theme is human error and inattention” in those incidents.

Google said its prototype vehicles have been involved in 14 collisions since 2010, including 11 in which the Google vehicle was rear-ended, often while stopped at a light or in slow-moving traffic on city streets, Reuters noted.

Peters told the news agency he was given a ride in one of the Google self-driving prototypes a year and a half ago. While on the freeway in California, he said, “another vehicle crossed into our lane,” and the Google vehicle responded “seamlessly” while avoiding a collision.

He said he thought the freeway incident “was a little bit unusual” and noted that driving on city streets “gets a lot more complicated”.

Testing on the Mcity track will “allow us … to fully understand that very hazardous environment,” he said.

Google declined to comment to Reuters on Peters’ remarks.

Michigan is among only a few states to pass laws allowing testing of self-driving cars on public roads.

Mcity partners include Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

Ford has said it has been testing a Fusion equipped with self-driving hardware and software at Mcity while  similar facility, GoMentum Station, opened earlier this year on the site of a former US naval base in northern California. Along with Honda, several carmakers, plus Google, use the private facility to test self driving vehicles, the report said.

Honda tests automated cars at former naval weapons test station

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