Google Car Loses Its Cherry: The Movie

I wrote last week about Google Car being in its first accident where it is at fault. We now have the video:

RAW: Moment when Google self-driving Car hits Bus in Mountain View, California

It isn’t terribly exciting. The movie almost never is as good as the book, after all. But at least the writers were faithful to the original. The video shows the incident as it is described in the accident report.

What strikes me is that the Google car merged into the side of the bus. This isn’t a case of the car cutting in front of the bus and not quite making it. The bus is cruising along, and the car swerves into its side. At the end, the video shows the property damage to both vehicles. The Google car’s left front quarter panel is pretty well crunched, and it looks like the front bumper was taken out. That’s a couple thousand dollars worth of body work there. Were it the kind of car I drive, it would be a total loss. (Then again, the kinds of cars I drive, filling the gas tank doubles the value of the vehicle.) The damage to the bus is much more modest, as is to be expected. But look at its location. It is smack in the door. Not the door up from by the driver, but the door further back that you only use to exit.

Note also that the bus isn’t all that far behind the vehicle ahead. It looks like the light had turned green and the previously stopped vehicles were spreading apart as traffic started moving. Trying to cut in here is totally not a reasonable move, regardless of its being a bus. But even beyond that, it looks like the car decided it was going to cut in, then never reexamined the wisdom of this decision, driving merrily into the side of the bus and then expressing astonishment about the whole thing.

The upshot: Google’s press release that they “bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision” is total weasel words. I work in a “contributory negligence” state. That means that if you sue someone for an accident, and they can show that you contributed to it, even if the vast majority of the fault lay with them, then you got nothing. Based on this video, if the bus driver wanted to sue Google, I would have no qualms about liability. (Damages are another matter, but that is typical in personal injury cases.)

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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8 thoughts on “Google Car Loses Its Cherry: The Movie

  1. Well, this is pretty much the picture I had in my head from reading the accident report. But it doesn’t make much sense. But the ridealong human’s remark that he thought the bus would stop for them doesn’t make much sense either.

    For other accidents, Google has produced a video that shows the cars picture of its surroundings at the time of the accident. I would like to see that.

    It might be that they thought not that the bus would stop, but that it would move over enough for them to have room in the lane.

    But this is merely technical interest, the car is clearly at fault here. I just don’t understand how the machine, which should have no lapses in vigilance, could have done that.


    • I’ve a theory to offer: Googlecar interpreted the bus as a regular car. So it timed its pull-out from the other lane to begin when it thought the car was past — only it wasn’t a car, it was a bus.

      Perhaps this was caused by the color of the bus, the angle of the sun, or something else that made Googlecar think that the vehicle it sense was a passenger car of standard length rather than a bus.


      • I thought about that, but all the PR stuff from Google has talked about expecting the bus to stop to let the car in. On the other hand, the point in my final paragraph is perhaps the most salient. When the Google Car finally caused an accident, Google went into weasel bullshit mode rather than simply fessing up.


  2. Unlike your jurisdiction, , California is a pure comparative liability state. But that’s a moot point here, because your assessment of liability is plainly correct from the video evidence: Googlecar is 100% liable.


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