The news made headlines in the Wall Street Journal Monday: Alphabet Inc’s (GOOG, GOOGL) famous self-driving cars suffered their first-ever accident that the driving software itself was responsible for causing.
On the surface, you might think of this as a huge setback for any business betting big on the future of self-driving cars.
Alphabet’s Google and the Elon Musk-led Tesla Motors (TSLA) are the two most prominent names that come to mind, but that list also includes the likes of Uber, General Motors (GM), Ford (F), Toyota (TM) and basically all the major automakers.
On the contrary, the incident, which occurred at the whopping velocity of 2 miles per hour and injured no one, highlights the absolutely absurd safety record of early autonomous car technology when put into practice on the roads.
While the WSJ report late Monday is unlikely to immediately affect GOOG or TSLA stock, I do happen to believe that increased attention on the safety of self-driving cars can only work in favor of Google stock and Tesla shares.
Google’s (GOOG) Insane Safety Stats
So just how did the first-ever car accident caused by self-driving software go down? As stated in the Wall Street Journal:
“One of Alphabet’s self-driving Lexus RX450hs pulled around some sandbags blocking the far-right area of a turn lane expecting a bus traveling behind it in the same, extra-wide lane to slow or stop. The Lexus hit the side of the bus at 2 miles per hour.”
All in all, this is basically a non-event. TSLA has made recent innovations like its “Summon” feature that lets cars squeeze into and out of parking spots on its own. While impressive, Google’s feat is much more so: After nearly 1.5 million miles on the road, this 2 miles per hour fender-bender is the only accident Google’s technology is responsible for.
Civil liberties analyst Ryan Hagemann highlighted the safety of autonomous vehicles in a TechTimes report last year:
“In theory, if you have 100 percent fully autonomous vehicles on the road, while you still might have accidents on the margin in rare situations, you’re basically looking at anywhere from a 95 to 99.99 percent reduction in total fatalities and injuries on the road.”
With the eliminations of certain dangerous tendencies of human drivers — distracted driving, fatigue, intoxication, etc. — Google and Tesla are leading a paradigm-shift in how we’ll eventually get around.
That’s not to say there aren’t major concerns with self-driving cars: The possibility that Wi-Fi-connected vehicles could be hacked and compromised by nefarious individuals is a serious issue that mass-market autonomous vehicles will have to effectively make impossible to succeed.
Ethics also comes into play here, as computers will occasionally have to choose between two or three extremely unattractive options in emergencies.
But at the end of the day, self-driving cars are starting to look inevitable. And taking a look at the stats, that may be a very good thing — especially for the likes of GOOG and TSLA.
As of this writing, John Divine did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter at @divinebizkid or email him at email@example.com.
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