Google takes blame for self-driving car crash with bus

1 Mar 2016

For the first time, Google has admitted that its self-driving car was the cause of an accident with a bus during its testing on the streets of California.

This is not the first recorded incident of a collision between a Google self-driving car and another road vehicle in California, but now it seems the company’s act of transparency has led to the discovery of a new first for the technology, and certainly not one to be celebrated.

In an incident report published to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website, Google states that, on Valentine’s Day last month, its Lexus autonomous vehicle travelling at a speed of 3kmph, had collided with a bus travelling at a speed of 24kmph.

Like many common traffic accidents, the Google car was attempting to merge back into a central lane after coming across a sandbag obstacle on the road, but having made the merge, the bus behind the car continued its path without letting the car out.

What makes this case more interesting than other incidents, however, is that, for the first time, the car’s systems are being blamed for the incident rather than another party, with Google admitting in a statement that it bears “some responsibility” for the crash.

We need to learn about buses

The statement went on to say that the incident would not have happened had the self-driving car not moved, also faulting the test driver of the car for not enacting the brake manually as the driver believed the bus would stop to let the car out.

To give Google some credit, this is one of a handful of incidents that have occurred with its self-driving cars, but Google has stated that it’s going to need to continue working on its software before the vehicles can be taken out on the road properly.

“We’ve now reviewed this incident (and thousands of variations on it) in our simulator in detail and made refinements to our software,” Google said.

“From now on, our cars will more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles, and we hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future.”

Google self-driving car image via Travis Wise/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic