Self-driving car gets pulled over by police

One of the self-driving cars being tested by Google was pulled over by a police officer for driving too slow, 25 mph in a 35 mph zone. I had not been aware that driving below the speed limit was a primary offense but apparently it is if you are causing a traffic backup behind you. Or maybe not, because the news report is a bit confused about whether it is an offense or not.

“As the officer approached the slow moving car he realized it was a Google Autonomous Vehicle,” a police department post said.

Which is to say that no one was driving the darn thing.

There was, however, a passenger. So the officer asked the passenger how the car was choosing speeds along certain roadways.

He also took the opportunity to inform the passenger about 22400(a) of the California Vehicle Code, which related to impeding traffic — a section of the law the self-driving car may have been unfamiliar with.

In a Google Plus post, the Google Self-Driving Car Project pled guilty to slow driving.

“We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25 mph for safety reasons,” the post said. “We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets.”

In the end, the officer determined the car had broken no law. No harm, no foul.

And no ticket was issued — not because there was no driver to whom to issue it but because the car had committed no violation.

What interested me was that the self-driving car stopped at all. Does the software have the ability to recognize that police are flagging you down? Or did the passenger in the car activate the stop? I am guessing that it must be the former.

Which raises the question: Are these cars being designed to drive without any humans inside or must they always have someone in case the automatic system needs to be over-ridden in an emergency?


  1. says

    Or there could be another reason. Cops often selectively enforce the law, choosing who they target and ticket based on their own personal prejudices. We know all about cops across the US and crime of “driving while black”. Cops are also known, to a lesser extent, to intentionally harass cyclists to try and get them off the road (re: cops assaulting Critical Mass participants) and cops are known to ticket certain makes of car more than others (all are “budget racers” or low price tag cars driven by young and poorer people) while expensive cars get a pass.

    If it turned out that cop selectively enforced that law because it was a driverless car, because of his personal dislike of the idea of such cars, that wouldn’t surprise me.

  2. says

    As far as I understand (as I believe I’ve said on your blog before, I follow the self-driving car with fascination, not least because I want one… badly), the ultimate goal is that a family can have one car that basically picks you up and drops you off.

    So let’s say it’s a household of 4. They all have to be at different places at different times. So, ideally, they would basically set a schedule in the car. The person who leaves earliest gets dropped off first, and the car returns on its own to pick up the next person. And that continues until everyone is where they need to be. As for how one would “summon” the car, I imagine it’d be an app on smart phones that “calls” the car. So you could call it, and then use GPS to follow the car as it heads to you, in order to keep up on its ETA.

    The cars are being designed basically to follow the laws. So in their final, completed designs, they will never go faster than the posted speed limit, go at green lights, slow down at yellow lights, stop at red lights and stop signs, obey four-way stops, obey the right-of-way, etc. In some outlines of how this could work, there’d no longer be any such thing as traffic. Granted, depending on where you’re going and the route the car takes, it does mean you won’t be able to speed off. However, as I understand it, all the cars will have a manual override, and then their top speeds would be like cars today.

    Makes one wonder how a self-driving car would perform on the infamous Autobon(sp?)…

    It is interesting that 100% of the accidents self-driving cars have been in have been caused by cars with human drivers (and a few times on purpose… a lot of drivers don’t appreciate the fact that these self-driving cars are designed to obey the rules of the road).

    I will say that I did not know about this 25mph limit. To me that is a pretty unintelligent idea. They should be going no faster or slower than the speed limit. So if you’re in a 25mph zone, that’s fine. But if you’re in a 35mph zone, then the car should go 35. If you’re on the highway, then the car should be able to go the posted speed limit on the highway.

    To be dead honest, though, I would much prefer being able to set the car’s speed myself. Speed limits are pretty worthless on the highway. On most highways, assuming you’re not stuck in traffic, the average driver will go sometimes as much as 15 -- 20 over the posted speed limit. Which means that if you’re driving, say, 60, and basically everyone else is doing 80 or above, then you are the road hazard… even if the posted speed limit is 60. So it’d be better if the speed a self-driving car drives at can be set by the passenger, with the upper limit being, say, 10 miles over the speed limit or something like that.

  3. khms says

    I’m pretty certain I’ve seen claims by Google that their cars do recognize police -- both a traffic cop giving hand signals, and a stopped police car that you have to pass carefully (just like it recognizes school buses … wait, why is that not buses in general?), so it seems recognizing being stopped by a cop would be an obvious extension.

    What does seem to be missing is some facility to show the car’s id to the cop asking for it … oh, and keeping hands on the steering wheel.

  4. Mano Singham says


    I think that having cars that do not need passenger would eliminate a lot of redundant cars as you point out. For example, every day my wife drives her car to the commuter train station and leaves it there for the whole day until she returns. Meanwhile I drive my car to work. If self-driving cars were available, she could drive to the train station and send it back for me to use during the day and then she could summon it when she returns. On days where the routine is disrupted, some juggling would be necessary but that is what taxis are for.

    I too look forward to the day that these cars will be available since eventually all of us would age to the point of losing the ability to drive safely.

  5. lanir says

    I’m a bit skeptical about the car recognizing police, at least as applies to a simple and encompassing statement like that. It might recognize the flashing lights the same way a traffic signal does now (see the flashes, turn on a white light near the signal to let drivers know what’s going on, then give the emergency vehicle a green light ASAP). But recognizing police officers and hand signals sounds a bit out there to me for a system that can’t even recognize a road without lane markers. I doubt it can even tell the difference between different emergency vehicles, it probably just pulls over for all of them since this behavior would work in just about all cases.

  6. Numenaster says

    I’m eager to see self-driving cars become the standard, because machine reaction time is much faster than a human’s. That means stopping distance is much less, so following distance can be decreased, and voila, the same roads can carry many more vehicles than before. But mostly, I welcome the opportunity to practice playing my zills in the car using both hands 😀

  7. moarscienceplz says

    If self-driving cars were available, she could drive to the train station and send it back for me to use during the day and then she could summon it when she returns.

    I’ve heard some pundits claim that when truly human-less driving happens that we will all stop owning cars. There will simply be a fleet of cars in each city that will respond to our request for a ride, and presumably our smart phones will get billed for each mile we ride. However, I’m not sure the car companies would like that too much. All that metal sitting in corporations’ parking lots five days a week represents a lot of excess profit for the car makers that would dry up if only enough cars were sold to handle the actual transportation needed.

  8. says

    khms #4 says

    (just like it recognizes school buses … wait, why is that not buses in general?)

    Well, there are different laws regarding school buses, for one.

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