For The First Time, Google Driverless Car At Fault In Crash

Robot hits bus in California

Google Autonomous Lexus
Google Autonomous Lexus
Lexus RX450h retrofitted by Google for its driverless car fleetMariordo, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

This past Valentine's Day, at the corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street in Mountain View, California, a Google autonomous car got into an altercation with a bus. Previously, human-driven cars have hit Google's autonomous cars, but this appears to be the first incident in which an autonomous car is at fault for an accident.

The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately three seconds later, as the Google AV was reentering the center of the lane, it made contact with the side of the bus. The Google AV was operating in autonomous mode and traveling at less than 2 mph, and the bus was travelling at about 15 mph at the time of contact. The Google AV sustained body damage to the left front fender, the left front wheel and one of its driver’s-side sensors. There were no injuries reported at the scene.

This is a familiar scenario for anyone who’s ever tried navigating around an obstacle in their lane, but couldn’t because of fast-flowing traffic in the lane next to them. The bus driver, like all cars in the lane adjacent to the Google car, likely had the right-of-way, though it’s reasonable to assume some courtesy would leave the lane open for a stuck car to pop in, get around an obstacle, and then get out.

According to a Google report set for release tomorrow obtained by The Verge human kindness is what the Google car was counting on, to let it merge into the lane. Instead, when the car attempted to drive around the obstacle it met commuter indifference, with a thud.