Google says it bears 'some responsibility' in self-driving car accident


For the first time, one of Google’s self-driving cars may be at least partially responsible for an accident.

A fender-bender on Valentine’s Day saw one of the cars move towards the center of a road in Mountain View, Calif. as a bus passed it on its left. The car, moving at roughly two miles per hour according to a Google report to be published Tuesday, struck the bus.

Google said the car’s human test driver — whose presence is mandated by law — believed, like the vehicle’s artificial intelligence, that the bus would yield to the car and didn't stop its movement. But the firm admitted the car had some culpability.

“In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision,” the company says in a narrative of the incident, part of a February monthly report on the self-driving car program. “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.”

Until now, Google has maintained that all of the relatively few incidents involving its autonomous cars were the fault of either the driver or its own human test drivers.

The company said in the report that the incident had led to changes in its software and that, 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.”

Self-driving cars have been seen as a potentially significant new part of Google’s business, though so far the company does not sell its software or manufacturer cars for consumers.

The growing autonomous vehicle sector has drawn the scrutiny of regulators and others in government.

California’s Department of Motor vehicles is currently considering a draft rule that would require a licensed driver to be behind the wheel of a self-driving car at all times. The tech industry has said that such rules would be backward-looking.

The Obama administration has also says it would like funding for programs that would encourage the development of self-driving cars.