In what appears to be the first incident of its kind, police officers recently pulled over a self-driving car with no one inside it.
The incident, which took place on a street in San Francisco earlier this month, was caught on video by a passing pedestrian. It shows several traffic cops pondering about how to handle the incident after stopping the vehicle for failing to have its front lights on while driving at night.
The footage shows the autonomous car, operated by GM-owned Cruise, waiting at a stoplight. As an officer emerges from his vehicle and approaches the robo-car, someone can be heard calling out, “Ain’t nobody in it.”
The officer peers into the vehicle, realizes that there is indeed no one inside, and returns to the police car.
At this point, the Cruise car looks like it’s about to flee the scene when it suddenly speeds off.
However, once it passes through the green light and reaches the other side of the junction, the car’s hazard lights come on as it comes to a halt by the sidewalk.
As the police car drives up behind the Cruise vehicle for a second time, a bemused bystander can be heard saying, “I’m gonna have to watch this.”
This time, two officers emerge from the police vehicle and approach the empty robo-car. A crowd of onlookers can be heard chuckling at the strange turn of events as the officers spend several minutes hanging around the vehicle. The video ends shortly after a third officer arrives on the scene.
It later emerged that one of the policemen had called Cruise personnel via a phone number displayed on the autonomous vehicle.
Shortly after the video appeared online on Sunday, Cruise responded with a tweet, saying: “Our [autonomous vehicle] yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop, as intended. An officer contacted Cruise personnel and no citation was issued.” Another tweet said: “We work closely with the SFPD on how to interact with our vehicles, including a dedicated phone number for them to call in situations like this.”
It’s not clear why the headlights on the Cruise car were off as it drove along the streets at night, but Cruise told Digital Trends that the issue has now been fixed.
While there have already been a number of reported incidents of self-driving cars being pulled over by cops for apparent driving violations, this appears to have been the first case where the autonomous car had no safety driver or passengers inside. Following years of on-road testing with a safety driver aboard, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles gave Cruise permission to drive fully driverless vehicles on the streets of San Francisco at the end of 2020.
This month’s incident highlights some of the unexpected scenarios that can occur with the autonomous technology, though one hopes that such safety-related incidents will be few and far between if autonomous cars ever go mainstream.