There should be no illusions about the reality of distracted driving. It's a terrible part of our day to day driving experience, and there are a lot of folks out there who place the blame on smartphones for what seems to be an increase in distraction-related incidents. While it's not necessarily Google's job to point out what distracted driving looks like, one of the benefits of the self-driving car program is the ability to go back after an accident and see — from a top-down 360° vision perspective, no less — exactly what happened in an accident.
As a result, Google is able to report today that their self-driving cars have been in 14 accidents since they started hitting the same roads we drive on every day. Perhaps even more interesting, the computer-controlled vehicles have been responsible for zero of those accidents.
This video, captured from one of the accidents Google's cars have encountered, shows someone who didn't even bother decelerating as they approached and intersection full of cars. According to Google's Chris Urmson, being rear-ended accounts for 11 of the 14 accidents their vehicles have encountered so far. That data furthers the suspicion that many such incidents go unreported every year, and are a significant portion of the total number of accidents that happen on our roads every year.
You may not be ready to hand your keys over to a robot just yet, but it couldn't be more clear with data like this that driving distracted is a serious problem. It's not hard to imagine significantly safer streets with fewer people operating the vehicles they are currently occupying, but at the same time data like this points to a serious general need to apply more focus when on the road.