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Test driver goes to hospital after most serious crash in Google self-driving car

Google’s Christopher Urmson believes driverless cars will saves lives by reducing traffic deaths.

A Google autonomous vehicle test driver was hospitalized after getting t-boned by a van that ran a red light near the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

As the Google self-driving Lexus went through a green light in manual mode, its autonomous technology detected a van that was about to run the red light and began to apply the brakes, states the company's self-driving car report for September. The test driver put the car fully in manual mode and was then struck by the other vehicle. The Google car "sustained substantial damage to its front and rear passenger doors," reads the report.

The test driver later voluntarily went to hospital, was evaluated and then released. The driver of the other vehicle didn't report any injuries.

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In the more than seven years Google has been testing self-driving cars, this is the most serious crash involving one of its cars.

Google cars were also involved in three other crashes in September.

Google has been teaching its cars to drive slightly above the speed limit for safety reasons and to honk at bad drivers, but the biggest obstacle is human drivers.

"So much of driving relies on silent conversations conducted via gentle nudge-and-response," reads the report. "Our cars can often mimic these social behaviours and communicate our intentions to other drivers, while reading many cues that tell us if we're able to pass, cut in or merge."

Google says its cars are getting better at detecting and responding to crossing guards, emergency vehicles, construction zones and how to merge during rush hour.

A report last year from researchers at the University of Michigan found that self-driving cars are more than four times as likely to involved in an accident than conventional cars, but the self-driving cars aren't at fault.

"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 unit, in a blog post last year.

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Google's September report also shows its vehicles have driven more than 2 million fully-autonomous miles on public roads. Google says this is equivalent to 300 years of human driving experience. The first million miles took six years, but the second million took 16 months.

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