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Biker nerfed by robo Chevy in San Francisco now lobs sueball at GM

Bye bye Mister Biker Guy, drove my Chevy to the lefty but the Chevy was awry (allegedly)

By Iain Thomson in San Francisco


A motorcyclist is suing General Motors in the US after he was knocked off his motorbike by one of the automaker's self-driving cars.

In a civil lawsuit [PDF] alleging negligence and demanding damages, photographer Oscar Nilsson claimed he was hit by an autonomous Chevrolet Bolt that had a human driver at the wheel. The driver was a General Motors employee testing the car's hands-free self-driving technology.

Nilsson claimed, in his California district court filing submitted on Monday, that he was nerfed by the robo-ride while going down Oak Street on his bike in San Francisco in December.

The Chevy – apparently in self-driving mode – moved into the left lane of the three-lane one-way road while the photographer continued on in the center lane, we're told. The Bolt then veered right sideswiping Nilsson and knocking him down, it is claimed. He hurt his neck and shoulder, is on disability leave as a result, and is demanding compensation.

General Motors, meanwhile, reckons it was Nilsson's fault by trying to overtake the Bolt as it changed lane.

"Safety is our primary focus when it comes to developing and testing our self-driving technology," GM told The Register in a statement today. "In this matter, the San Francisco Police Department collision report stated that the motorcyclist merged into our lane before it was safe to do so."

All self-driving car companies operating in the Cool Grey City of Love have to file accident reports with California's Department of Motor Vehicles to explain any robo-ride prangs – and as such GM submitted a writeup for the Oak Street mishap.


According to that report [PDF] the self-driving Bolt spotted a gap in the heavy traffic between a minivan and a sedan, and changed lane to the left to slip into the space. However, the minivan slowed down, closing the gap, so the computer-controlled car automatically abandoned the maneuver and returned to the center lane.

In the automaker's version of events, Nilsson was lane-splitting while attempting to pass the Bolt, and was given a glancing blow at 17mph by the cyber-Chevy as it moved to the right. The biker then "wobbled and fell over," according to GM.

Lane-splitting is the practice of driving down the white dividing lines in traffic, sneaking between columns of vehicles – a practice that is perfectly legal under Californian law (an East Bay pizza delivery chain is named after the practice.) However, it doesn't allow you to overtake on the right when it is unsafe to do so.

"The motorcyclist was determined to be at fault for attempting to overtake and pass another vehicle on the right under conditions that did not permit that movement in safety in violation of CVC 21755(a)," the automaker's report stated.

It will be up to the district court to sort out the rights and wrongs of the matter. GM has said it is going to fight the case, and the discovery process could prove very interesting as it may reveal fascinating documents on the automaker's robo-ride technology.

California is the only US state that has specifically legalized lane-splitting by motorcyclists, although some other US states don’t have specific rules banning it. It may be that autonomous car software isn't used to handling motorbikes moving down the center lines and just didn't react fast enough, if at all. It wouldn't be the first time such software has had difficulties. ®

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