Driverless-Error: Google Car Hits Bus

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CARS.COM — Google says one of its self-driving cars was involved in a minor crash. That’s hardly news; the tech giant’s small fleet of self-driving cars racks up thousands of miles each week, and incidents have ranged from traffic tickets to rear-enders by other drivers. But this one is notable because the self-driving car, not someone else, appears to be at fault.

Related: Google Cites Human Error in Driverless-Car Collision

It happened Feb. 14, according to the accident report posted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The Google vehicle, a 2012 Lexus RX 450h outfitted with the company’s self-driving equipment, was in autonomous mode near Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

The RX drove southeast in the rightmost lane on El Camino Real, a six-lane boulevard that bisects Silicon Valley. As it approached this intersection, according to the DMV report, the RX attempted to turn right. That particular lane is wide enough for drivers who want to turn right to pass on the right other cars going straight, so Google’s self-driving Lexus started to do so.

Problem was that sandbags around a storm drain blocked its path. When the light turned green, the Google car tried to negotiate its way back into the flow of straight-moving traffic after a few cars drove by. As a city bus bore down, the Lexus inched back in — its software judging that the bus would yield.

It didn’t. The Lexus began to merge, and the bus grazed it. It was a fender bender in the most literal sense: Google’s Lexus took damage to its left front wheel and fender, as well as to one of its driver’s-side sensors. No injuries were reported by the Google test driver or anyone on the bus, which was traveling 15 mph at the time, according to the report.

“This is a classic example of the negotiation that’s a normal part of driving — we’re all trying to predict each other’s movements,” Google said in its February monthly report. “In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision. That said, our test driver believed the bus was going to slow or stop to allow us to merge into the traffic, and that there would be sufficient space to do that.”

Google says it has reviewed the incident and updated its software to assume buses and other large vehicles are less likely to yield.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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