Google's self-driving car hits bus in first at-fault accident

Google's self-driving cars have been involved in automotive accidents occasionally during their time on public roads, but up until recently those incidents were the fault of a human driver, not the autonomous cars. That trend changed this month, with a Google self-driving Lexus SUV hitting the side of a bus in a low-speed accident. No one was hurt, and Google has accepted some responsibility for the auto incident.

News of the wreck surfaced today in a California DMV accident report just published online; the incident itself happened on Valentine's Day, however. The issue happened when the self-driving car wanted to turn right but couldn't due to sandbags placed in front of a storm drain at an intersection.

Because the car had to get around the sandbags, it gravitated to the left at 2MPH. A bus was coming down that lane, however, at about 15MPH. The human driver inside the Google car didn't have control of the vehicle, as he or she believed the bus would yield. Instead, the Google car struck the bus on its right side.

Google has accepted some responsibility for the accident, but has pointed toward the bus driver, indicating that he or she should have yielded in the situation. In a statement following the report's publication, Google's self-driving project lead Chris Urmson said:

We clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn't moved there wouldn't have been a collision ... We saw the bus, we tracked the bus, we thought the bus was going to slow down, we started to pull out, there was some momentum involved.

According to the AP, neither Google nor the transit agency that owns the bus are pushing for a legal determination of fault to be made. Damage to both vehicles is described as very minor. The DMV, for its part, has been in talks with Google about the wreck, but has not made any sort of public comment about the incident.

Represented in the incident is something no amount of technology can fix, but that roads dominated wholly by self-driving cars won't have to deal with: two drivers, one human and one machine in this case, trying to anticipate what the other driver is going to do. The Google car 'thought' the bus would yield (as did its human driver). The bus driver apparently thought the Google car would pause and let it pass.

One of several arguments in favor of self-driving cars is that they can wirelessly talk with each other, broadcasting their intention to other cars so that every vehicle in the vicinity can make driving decisions that avoid accidents altogether. If the bus were autonomous, it may have very well received advanced warning about the Google car's intention to shift lanes, and would have responded appropriately.

SOURCE: Associated Press