One of the first accidents to happen between Google’s self-driving cars and a public transit bus was due to the fault of a computer algorithm. According to the reports filed on February 14th by the Department of Motor Vehicles in Los Angeles, California, a Lexus RX450h SUV crashed into a bus while in autonomous mode.
The accident between the autonomous vehicle (also known as an AV), and the transit bus happened in Mountain View, California on El Camino Real, near Google’s headquarters.
There was a test driver in the vehicle, but the car was in autonomous mode. Luckily, there were no injuries from the accident.
According to the reports, the self-driving Lexus SUV was prepared to make a right turn on Castro Street. The vehicle was in the right-hand lane of a three lane street. The Google self-driving car wasn’t able to make the right turn due to sand bags that were obstructing the lane. This required the vehicle to move into the center lane in order to make a right turn.
The self-driving vehicle correctly allowed multiple vehicles to pass before attempting to proceed around the sand bag obstruction. A bus approached behind the Lexus SUV at 15 MPH. It was noted that the test driver, who sat in the front passenger seat, could see the bus in the left-hand mirror. The self-driving Lexus was going 2 MPH when bus collided into the SUV causing damage on the front-left fender, sensor and wheel of the Lexus.
As reported from the Los Angeles DMV accident report, the test driver thought that the bus would have come to a complete stop, allowing the Google AV to proceed. However, it took only three seconds for the SUV to make contact with the bus.
These are everyday situations that human drivers have to deal with on streets and highways.
The Google AV positioned itself to proceed while another vehicle was incoming. The computer algorithm predicted that transit bus would either stop or slow down enough to allow it to pass. Even the test driver had the same notion. However, in this case, both the computer and test driver were wrong.
Alphabet (the parent company of Google) has taken the blame for the Google AV accident. This is the believed to be the first autonomous mode accident out of 1.5 million miles driven. As reported in Reuters, Google has stated they bear some reasonability. However, the transit agency is still investigating and has not determined liability.
Accidents with self-driving cars will provide more evidence to Consumer Watchdog groups who are constantly warning about autonomous driving to make their case regarding stricter regulations, vehicle standards and technology.
Groups against self-driving vehicles state that accidents like these are all the proof they need to show that the technology is not efficient as a human driver would be. The project director for a Consumer Watchdog group, John Simpson noted that for every autonomous vehicle crash, police must be called to the scene, video and technical data should be gathered as evidence and the information should be made public.
Although this may be the first autonomous vehicle accident reported in Los Angeles by the DMV in 2016, there have been 17 reports filed by Google over the past six years. In those 17 cases, Google was not blamed in any of those accidents.
With over 1 million miles, Google has launched a fleet of 23 Lexus RX450h SUV’s on the roads of California. Alphabet Inc. will not only improve on the technology, but also, will learn from this incident to ensure self-driving improvements for situations like these.