What Happens When the Cops Pull Over a Self-Driving Car?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 13 2012 8:15 PM

What Happens When the Cops Pull Over a Self-Driving Car?

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A blogger captured what appeared to be a strange scene: cops pulling over a driverless car.

Screenshot / Marginal Revolution

Speaking of self-driving cars, economist and blogger Tyler Cowen spotted what appeared to be a surreal scene on a Washington, D.C. street today: a bunch of cops milling around one of Google’s autonomous Priuses, having apparently pulled it over for some infraction. (Not speeding, surely.)

If that were true, it would raise all sorts of amusing questions, as commenters on Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution, were quick to note. How do you pull over a driverless car? Does it sense the flashing lights and sirens and slowly move to the curb on its own? Or, if a human takes over, how does the cop know who was driving at the time of the infraction? If it was the computer, does the human still get the ticket?

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Intrigued, I contacted the folks Google to see if they could offer any insights. As it turns out, the reality of the situation was more mundane: The police had simply seen the self-driving car parked on the street and were curious to know more about the technology.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.