Nellie Bowles in San Francisco and agencies
Tuesday 1 March 2016
The incident happened on 14 February and was reported to California’s department of motor vehicles in an accident report that the agency posted on 29 February.
In a detailed statement from its monthly report on its self-driving car project, Google said that the incident happened on El Camino Real, a busy six-lane boulevard with hundreds on intersections. The car was following a recent change to its programming, following “the spirit of the road” as well as the traffic code by hugging the far side of the right-turn lane to allow other cars to pass on the left.
“It then detected sandbags near a storm drain blocking its path, so it needed to come to a stop. After waiting for some other vehicles to pass, our vehicle, still in autonomous mode, began angling back toward the center of the lane at around 2mph – and made contact with the side of a passing bus traveling at 15mph. Our car had detected the approaching bus, but predicted that it would yield to us because we were ahead of it,” Google said.
“Our test driver, who had been watching the bus in the mirror, also expected the bus to slow or stop. And we can imagine the bus driver assumed we were going to stay put. Unfortunately, all these assumptions led us to the same spot in the lane at the same time. This type of misunderstanding happens between human drivers on the road every day.”
Google says it has refined its software following the incident, acknowledging that buses and other large vehicles are less likely to yield. “In this case we clearly bear some responsibility because if our car hadn’t moved there would’t have been a collision.”
“We hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future.”
Hilary Rowen, a partner at the insurance regulation practice Sedgwick LLP ... said the case is a good example of a conundrum that will soon be common.
“Here, the software didn’t avoid the accident, but the human could have taken over,” she said. “Who’s at fault – the driver, the bus driver, or the software?