What happens when a police officer or other road authority needs to pull over a driverless vehicle?
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We’ve seen how it plays out when there’s a heavily inebriated person behind the wheel of a Tesla—police in that scenario got in front of the cruising car and brought it to a stop by gradually slowing down in front of it. But that’s not how all autonomous vehicles react to the demands of the law.
A video of a San Francisco, California officer attempting to stop a Cruise robotaxi (a converted Chevy Bolt) operating in the city at night without its lights on illustrates GM’s answer to the question, but perhaps more importantly, exposes a gap in public knowledge regarding how these vehicles operate in important emergency situations.
The clip shows the officer walking from his squad car, which has its lights flashing, up to the taxi’s door, seemingly realizing there’s nobody in it, and then attempting to open the door before walking away. At this point the car drives off, which Cruise says is its programmed protocol — to continue forward out of traffic until there is a safe place to pull over after detecting the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle behind it.
Cruise also claims it “work[s] closely with SFPD,” including providing them a number to call in these types of situations, but it’s pretty clear the cops weren’t properly prepared for this.
The video captures somebody shouting in a commanding voice as the Cruise drives off, followed by a laugh from a nearby crowd, but it’s not obvious where the voice comes from. The video continues for over three minutes and concludes with three officers gathered around the car, hazards flashing but headlights still off. No citation was issued.
Cruise’s autonomous San Fran taxis are permitted to travel only at night at speeds up to 30 mph (48 km/h), and have only recently begun offering rides to the public.