Google self-driving car strikes public bus in California

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Monday, February 29, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A self-driving car being tested by Google struck a public bus on a Silicon Valley street, a fender-bender that appears to be the first time one of the tech company's vehicles caused an accident during testing on city roads.

Google accepted some responsibility for the collision, which occurred on Valentine's Day when one of the Lexus SUVs it has outfitted with sensors and cameras hit the side of the bus. No one was injured, according to an accident report Google wrote and submitted to California's Department of Motor Vehicles.

The agency posted the report Monday on its website.

In the accident report, Google wrote that its car was trying to get around some sandbags near the curb at an intersection near its headquarters in Mountain View, California, when its left front struck the right side of the bus. Google's car was sliding to the left to pass the sandbags and make a right turn.

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As the Lexus nudged out at 2 mph it collided with the bus, which was traveling at 15 mph, Google wrote. The car's test driver - who under state law must be in the front seat to grab the wheel when needed - thought the bus would yield and did not have control when the collision happened, according to Google.

While the report does not address fault, in a written statement Google said, "We clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn't moved there wouldn't have been a collision."

The statement called the incident "a classic example of the negotiation that's a normal part of driving - we're all trying to predict each other's movements."

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority said none of the 15 passengers or driver on its bus was injured. The bus had minor damage.

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"An internal VTA investigation is still going on, there are several pieces of information that need to be examined, so no determination of liability has been made," spokeswoman Stacey Hendler Ross said in a written statement.

There may never be a formal determination of liability, especially if damage was negligible and neither Google nor the transit authority pushes its side. Still, the Feb. 14 collision could be the first time a Google car in autonomous mode caused an accident.

Google cars have been involved in nearly a dozen collisions in or around Mountain View since starting to test on city streets in the spring of 2015. In most cases, Google's cars were rear-ended. No one has been seriously injured.

A spokeswoman for California's DMV, which regulates Google's testing of about two dozen Lexus SUVs in the state, said the agency hoped to speak with Google on Monday about what went wrong. Under state law, Google must retain data from the moments before any accident.

"As far as he-said she said there shouldn't be any of that. It's all there," said Robert W. Peterson, an insurance law expert at Santa Clara University who has studied self-driving cars.