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Google takes ‘some responsibility’ for self-driving car/bus crash

The tech giant has accepted at least some responsibility for the accident, which occurred when a Lexus SUV it had fitted with sensors and cameras struck the side of the bus near the company’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters, The TorontoStar reports.

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.”

Fortunately, there were no injuries, according to an accident report Google submitted to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The report was posted online Monday.

Google reported it has made changes to its software after the accident to avoid future crashes, Reuters reports.

In the report, Google said the vehicle, a self-driving Lexus RX450h, was attempting to get around sandbags in a wide lane. The company said the vehicle was traveling less than two miles per hour. The bus was moving at about 15 mph.

Wired reports that the autonomous car was traveling down the El Camino Real in Mountain view, and had moved to the far right lane to turn right onto Castro Street. The Lexus stopped after it detected sand bags that were placed around a storm drain and blocking its path. Moving around the sand bags caused the problem, the report said.

According to the report:

“After a few cars had passed, the Google AV began to proceed back into the center of the lane to pass the sand bags. A public transit bus was approaching from behind. The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately three seconds later, as the Google AV was reentering the center of the lane it made contact with the side of the bus.”

Interestingly, Google’s cars have racked up more than 1.3 million miles since 2009, Wired reports. They can even recognize hand signals from traffic cops and are able to “think” at speeds faster than any human can. They have been involved in 17 crashes, as of January, but all of these were due to human error.

In the statement, Google notes that subsequent cars will have a better understanding that buses and other large vehicles aren’t as “likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles, and we hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future,” CNN Money reports.

According to The Toronto Star, none of the 15 passengers or the driver of the bus were injured, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority reports. The agency is currently investigating the incident and has not made any decisions regarding liability, said spokeswoman Stacy Hendler Ross in a written statement.

It’s possible that such a legal decision based on fault may never be made, especially if the damage is negligible. Both sides have indicated that it is, and if Google or the transit authority don’t pursue the case.

But the collision may very well be the first time a Google car in autonomous mode actually caused a crash.

It comes at a time when Google has said that it should be able to test vehicles that don’t have steering wheels and other controls, Reuters reports.

In December, the company criticized regulations proposed by the state of California that require self-driving cars to be equipped with a steering wheel, throttle, and brake pedals while driving on public roads. And of course, a licensed driver would need to be there to take over if something went wrong.

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