Robots are not above the law.
On Monday, an officer of the Mountain View, Calif., Police Department (MVPD) pulled over a self-driving car going for a test drive on public roads. The incident, which may very well be the first time an officer has stopped an autonomous vehicle (AV) in the U.S., was pretty uneventful based on descriptions of both the police department and the car’s operator, Google.
According to a blog post from the police department, the car was going 24 miles per hour on El Camino Real in Google’s home town of Mountain View, on a stretch where the speed limit was 35 miles per hour. Traffic was backing up behind the AV, so the officer pulled it over and explained to the “driver” — who wasn’t driving the vehicle before the officer pulled it over — that cars can’t drive so slowly that they impede traffic.
“Driving too slowly? Bet humans don’t get pulled over for that too often,” reads a blog post on the Google Self-Driving Car Project’s Plus page.
The post explained that Google’s AVs don’t drive faster than 25 miles per hour on public streets.
“We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets,” the post reads.
The study also found that collisions with self-driving cars tend to be low-speed accidents and have much fewer serious injuries compared with conventional accidents.
Saul Jaeger, a sergeant in MVPD’s traffic unit, told Government Technology via email that the incident was the first time the police department has ever pulled over a Google AV. The vast majority of Google’s 1.2 million miles of test driving on public roads have been in Mountain View.
There were two operators in the vehicle, one of whom was sitting behind the wheel and one of whom was in the passenger seat, according to Jaeger. California’s rules for AV testing on public roads require that a person be sitting behind the wheel of the car and able to take over if need be. In the past, Google employees in such a position have taken over control of the self-driving cars just before they got into accidents.
The police officer did not ticket the car operators.
Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.