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Google Self-Driving Car May Have Caused an Accident

It was just a little fender-bender, but still it's for the record books

2 min read
Google Self-Driving Car May Have Caused an Accident
Image: DMV

The very first accident caused by a robotic car occurred last week, when a Google car had a little encounter with the side of a bus in Mountain View, Calif.,  home to Alphabet.

It was a sedate fender-bender, according to the report filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles and signed by Chris Urmson, head of the company's self-driving car project. It describes how a Google Lexus model approached a red light, signaled that it wanted to turn right before stopping, and when the light turned green found that its way forward was blocked by sandbags placed around a storm drain. The car waited as a number of cars passed before it tried to get around the bags and into the center of the lane, at which point a bus approached from behind. The Google car’s driver did not intervene, assuming that the bus would either stop or let the Google car nose gingerly into traffic. But no: The Google car—moving at about 3 kilometers per hour (2 mph)—made contact with the bus, going about 24 kph (15 mph), producing damage to the car’s front fender and wheel and to a sensor.

There were no casualties except, perhaps, to corporate pride. Nobody’s perfect.

 “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. In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn't moved there wouldn't have been a collision," Google said in its monthly report, technically due out Tuesday but made available to news organizations.

It had to happen eventually. Last year, Google admitted that its cars had experienced a number of near-misses. As Urmson noted at the time, none of those near-misses ever threatened to cause serious damage, and the rate at which they occurred had fallen, with only 5 near-misses taking place over a total of about 600,000 kilometers of testing done during the first 11 months of 2011. It really does suggest that Google cars drive more safely than the average person does.

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This photo shows a parked Land Rover that is plugged into a Tesla charging station.

This vintage Land Rover Defender has been refitted with an electric powertrain, one originally designed for a Tesla.

E.C.D. Automotive Design

From the outside, this Land Rover Defender looks like any other example of the postwar British classic that conquered the African outback—and the automotive world’s heart. But when I step on the accelerator, my own heart jumps. The Defender charges like a lioness on a wildebeest’s scent, slaying 60 miles per hour (almost 100 kilometers per hour) in about 5 seconds. That acceleration is so out of character for this doughty old truck, and so fun, that I’m forced to do it again.

Clearly, that’s no lazy Rover diesel chugging below the hood—or even a Chevrolet V-8, a current go-to engine for vintage-car fans seeking a contemporary edge. This Defender, known for raiding tombs, has raided Tesla’s temple of tech.

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