US government: ‘it’s not a surprise Google’s car crashed’

The fact that a Google self-driving car had a crash is “not a surprise” according to the US transport secretary Anthony Foxx.

Talking to the BBC at South by Southwest in Austin Texas, Foxx discussed the future of road transportation and the recent crash caused by Google’s autonomous SUV, which pulled out and struck a bus.

Foxx said: “It’s not a surprise that at some point there would be a crash of any technology that’s on the road.

“But I would challenge one to look at the number of crashes that occurred on the same day that were the result of human behaviour.”

Seven US cities, including Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco, are in the running for a $40m government grant to fund smart city technologies, including driverless cars.

Foxx said that he expected the autonomous technology not to be perfect, but that it could prevent up to 80% of crashes in the US. For the foreseeable future there is likely to be a mix of human driven and driverless cars, but the future for the subsequent generations might be different.

But Foxx said: “My kids don’t know what a typewriter is. They don’t even know what it is to roll up a window in a car, because they’re all motorised these days.”

Google’s driverless Lexus SUV – without a scratch. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

What form the autonomous future holds is still up for debate, with car manufacturers designing and building cars along the traditional model of ownership and others including Google, pitching an idea closer to a shared car service – taxis without drivers.

Many cars on the road today are capable of at least some form of autonomous driving, from adaptive cruise control and emergency automated braking to Tesla Motor’s piloted driving of its Model S electric car, which can drive, change lanes and take turns without the driver needing to actively participate.

Foxx said: “Driverless technology presents a lot of potential for disruption on a number of fronts. It’s unclear to me now exactly how that future unfolds.”

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