Futuristic self-driving cars travelling along California roads have needed plenty of old-fashioned human intervention to stay safe, according to test reports.

Driverless cars will reduce human error leading to crashes by 2030

Driverless cars will reduce human error but still need human intervention. Image by Matt Biddulph / CC BY 2.0

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles released reports filed by seven companies given permission by the agency to test prototype vehicles in public which gave instances in which a driver had to take over because of technology problems or other safety concerns.

The reports show wildly different levels of success since on-road testing started in September 2014.

Experts in the technology said Google, whose cars drove the most by far, performed relatively well, but also cautioned that the testing typically happened during good weather.

A Google self-drive car.

A Google self-drive car. Image by Roman Boed / CC BY 2.0

Other companies reported frequent instances in which the person required to be in the front seat just in case had to grab the wheel.

Nissan, for example, tested just 1,485 miles in public, but reported 106 cases where the driver had to take control. The Japanese car maker has said it plans to have “commercially viable autonomous drive vehicles” by 2020.

Google said its cars needed human help 341 times over 424,000 miles – the equivalent of about 10 times a year, given the 12,000 miles the average US vehicle travels annually.

In 11 of the 341 instances, Google said its cars would have been involved in a crash.

Chris Urmson, head of the company’s self-driving car project, said while the results were encouraging they also showed the technology had yet to reach his goal of not needing someone behind the wheel.

“There’s none where it was like, ‘Holy cow, we just avoided a big wreck’,” he said.

“We’re seeing lots of improvement. But it’s not quite ready yet. That’s exactly why we test our vehicles with a steering wheel and pedals.”

(Press Association)