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.
However, some have wondered whether the cars drive too cautiously and therefore are more likely to be in accidents. Though Google representatives have repeatedly stressed that its self-driving cars have accidents they’ve been involved in, a preliminary study from the University of Michigan found that the cars appear to benever been at fault in any of the 16 involved in accidents at a higher rate than human-driven cars.
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.
Photo of MVPD officer pulling the Google AV over by Aleksandr Milewski.