The Google car can drive itself in a wide variety of situations, but there’s not a whole lot it can do to avoid reckless drivers. One of the tech giant’s autonomous Lexus RX450h crossovers was recently T-boned by a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van in Mountain View, California.
The monthly report that tracks the progress of Google’s self-driving program explains the RX450h was operating in manual mode at the time of the accident. As it proceeded through a green light, the crossover’s autonomous tech — which goes on standby but never truly shuts off — detected that a vehicle was approaching the intersection.
Google’s Lexus autonomous applied the brakes when it realized the van was about to run a red light and collide with it. The driver quickly came to the same conclusion, so he disengaged the autonomous tech and took full manual control of the vehicle in an attempt to avoid the crash. It was too little, too late, and the Sprinter rammed into the RX450. The accident report explains the van was traveling at roughly 30 mph when it hit the Lexus, which was going precisely 22 mph.
Luckily, no injuries were reported. The driver of Google’s prototype voluntarily checked himself into the hospital after the crash, but he was quickly released. The RX450h was totaled, however, because it sustained significant damage on the passenger side. Google’s report notes the Sprinter’s front end is substantially damaged.
— Ron van Zuylen (@grommet) September 25, 2016
Google stresses that the accident wasn’t the fault of the car or the driver, and that the technology worked the way it was designed to. Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s senior technical leader, recently explained to Digital Trends that self-driving cars aren’t able to swerve or make emergency maneuvers. If a collision is imminent, the best a self-driving car can do is to slam on the brakes.
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