Google autonomous vehicle causes first accident

Posted on 2 Mar 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

US tech company Google has admitted for the first time that one of its autonomous vehicles has caused a traffic accident.

While the company’s large fleet of autonomous cars have been involved in several accidents this was the first that was caused by the vehicle itself.

According to a filing with the California DMV, a Google autonomous vehicle (Google AV) manufactured by Lexus was involved in a low-speed accident two weeks ago at in intersection in Palo Alto.

“the Google AV had to come to a stop and go around sandbags positioned around a storm drain that were blocking its path. […] the Google AV began to proceed back to the center of the lane to pass the sand bags. A public transit bus was approaching from behind,” stated Google in the DMZ report.

The company reported the accident also occurred in part due to an incorrect judgement by one of its test drivers.

“The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop […] three seconds later, as the Google AV was reentering the center of the lane it made contact with the bus,” Google also reported in the DMZ filing.

Both vehicles suffered minor damage from the collision, however no injuries of any kind were reported. As well, there is no evidence that Google’s software caused the vehicle to intentionally or unintentionally break local traffic rules.

In a statement following the release of the DMZ filing Google admitted that they “clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision.”

Navigating legal obstacles

While Google has said that it would learn from this crash and reassess how its driverless cars deal with large vehicle like buses, the incident also highlights forthcoming problems with the technology.

Over the course of the million plus miles which the company’s autonomous vehicles have traveled, they have encountered a number of problems caused by the unpredictability of the human drivers around them.

This latest crash proves that such unpredictably can even lead to accidents seeming caused by Google’s software. While Google’s AI software is considered the ‘driver’ of a vehicle by law, there is yet to be a serious enough crash for this to be tested in the courts.

Nonetheless, such a crash is close to inevitable in the future as Google and other companies begin large-scale tests of their own driverless vehicles.