Google's self-driving car caused an accident, so what now?

Googles Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. A Google self-driving car caused its first crash on February 14, when it changed lanes and put itself in the path of an oncoming bus.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images
Googles Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. A Google self-driving car caused its first crash on February 14, when it changed lanes and put itself in the path of an oncoming bus.

After logging millions of miles in autonomous-drive mode, one of Google's self-driving cars has finally been the cause of an accident.

It happened in Mountain View, California, on Valentine's Day. Nobody was hurt and if it were two vehicles with humans at the controls it would be just another low-speed accident.

But this was different. In this case, Google's car was in autonomous drive mode maneuvering near sand bags in the street when it steered into a bus that was going 15 mph in the next lane over.


The accident report Google filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles described the crash as, "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." At the time, Google's self-driving car was going 2 mph and wound up with body damage to the left front fender, left front wheel and a driver's-side sensor.

Google's February monthly report on autonomous drive activities further discussed the accident saying: "We clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn't moved there wouldn't have been a collision. 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."

Does this accident change the push from Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C., to develop self-driving cars?

"This is just one accident, and we will likely see more," said Bryant Walker Smith an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina. "The world is a messy place and roads are messy places so this isn't the last accident we'll ever see with a self-driving vehicle."


Walker Smith specializes in studying the development of laws and regulations involving self-driving cars.

He understands why this accident will generate lots of headlines, but beyond that he says it doesn't tell us much.

Except for this: tech companies and automakers still have a lot to figure out.

"These technologies are not yet ready for a wide range of driving conditions," he said. "El Camino Real (where the accident happened) is a horrible, busy, suburban road and there was construction. This shows Google is still trying to figure out how to handle messy conditions like this."

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.