By Mike Davey
Mountain View, California — March 2, 2016 — It finally happened. One of Google’s self-driving cars has actually caused a crash. It’s been known for months now that the company’s autonomous vehicles have been involved in accidents, but this is the first time that the self-driving vehicle could reasonably be said to be at fault.
John M. Simpson of the non-profit Consumer Watchdog sees this as a reason to deny Google the opportunity to test new prototypes built without a steering wheel and foot pedals. Google has asked both California’s DMV and federal regulators to allow these prototypes on the roads. This seemed likely to happen, considering statements made by US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For more on this, see “NHTSA says software can count as a driver.”
This seems less likely to go forward in the wake of the most recent accident involving one of these vehicles. “Clearly Google’s robot cars can’t reliably cope with everyday driving situations,” said Simpson. “There needs to be a licensed driver who can take over, even if in this case the test driver failed to step in as he should have.”
The collision occurred on February 14, when one of the company’s autonomous Lexus SUVs struck the side of a bus. The collision was at very low speed and there were no injuries, according to the report Google wrote and submitted to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In fact, reports indicate that the Google SUV was only going about 2 mph (3 kph) when the crash occurred. The bus it struck was travelling at about 15 mph (24 kph).
The Google SUV sustained body damage to the left front fender, the left front wheel and one of its driver side sensors. Minor damage was also reported for the bus. According to the report filed by Google, the autonomous SUV was about to make a right turn when sensors detected an obstruction around a storm drain. The self-driving car needed to move to its left while staying in the same lane to avoid the obstruction. It did so, but struck the bus.
Under California law, autonomous vehicles must have a test driver in the front seat, ready to assume control when needed. A statement from Google indicates that the test driver in this case thought the bus would yield.
You can read the accident report filed by Google at this link.