Google’s (First?) Accident in Autonomous Mode

Google’s self-driving car has been in a number of accidents over the years, but none were the fault of the autonomous driving software. The accidents all either occurred when the vehicle was in “human-driver” mode or were the fault of the driver of a different vehicle (Google’s cars have been rear-ended several times).

On Valentine’s Day, however, Google filed an accident report that might possibly be first accident for which the self-driving car software was at fault.

This was a very minor accident with no injuries, and it’s not completely clear from Google’s self-report who was at fault, although it seems like the Google car was. I would be curious to see how the insurance companies involved parcel out blame.

From the report:

A Google Lexus-model autonomous vehicle (“Google AV”) was traveling in autonomous mode eastbound on El Camino Real in Mountain View in the far right-hand lane approaching the Castro St. intersection. As the Google AV approached the intersection, it signaled its intent to make a right turn on red onto Castro St. The Google A V then moved to the right-hand side of the lane to pass traffic in the same lane that was stopped at the intersection and proceeding straight. However, the Google AV had to come to a stop and go around sandbags positioned around a storm drain that were blocking its path. When the light turned green, traffic in the lane continued past the Google AV. After a few cars had passed, the Google AV began to proceed back into the center of the lane to pass the sandbags. A public transit bus was approaching from behind. 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 re-entering the center of the lane it made contact with the side of the bus. The Google AV was operating in autonomous mode and traveling less than 2 mph, and the bus was travelling at about 15mph 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-side sensors. There were no injuries reported at the scene.

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