Autonomous vehicles will be the future of driving. Car manufacturers and technology companies are constantly chasing the ‘next big thing’ and, now that electric cars are pretty much taken care of, focus has shifted to driverless vehicles.
Forgetting the most obvious factors that should be considered with regard to autonomous vehicles – are they going to be genuinely safe? – what happens in the event an autonomous vehicle disobeys the Highway Code and the police need to step in?
That question has been (sort of) answered by way of a video recently posted to Twitter and Reddit. The video, posted to Twitter by user @llsethj, shows police officers in San Francisco, California pulling over an autonomous taxi from the company, Cruise.
Cruise has been operating driverless taxis in San Francisco since November 2021, when CEO Kyle Vogt took the first driverless taxi ride, however, according to TechCrunch, the general public have only been allowed to hail driverless taxis since earlier in 2022.
In the video, however, police can be seen putting their lights on to signal to the Cruise car to pull over when at a set of traffic lights. The Cruise car then drives forward, puts the hazard lights on and pulls over to the side of the road. At first, it isn’t immediately obvious why the police want to pull the car over in the first place, but a quick look at the comments on the video reveal it didn’t have its headlights on when driving at night.
It’s claimed Cruise personnel became aware of the incident in real time and it was they who instructed the car (by way of controlling the car from another location) to pull over at the second location.
The police would have likely known it was a driverless vehicle (the cameras on top should have been a giveaway) although seeing as a couple of them made several walks around the car and had several looks inside, they were either amazed or bemused by the technology. One of the officers can then be seen making a phone call. Again, going off the comments, the police have a direct line to Cruise to help remedy any infractions made by its driverless vehicles.
The video also appeared on Twitter, and Cruise itself responded to make light of the situation.
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.
— cruise (@Cruise) April 10, 2022
The video cuts off before any fault is fixed and the Cruise car can continue its journey. But it does open up the question of just how viable driverless vehicles are right now. TechCrunch cites Elizabeth E. Joh, a law professor at UC Davis, who has written an essay on the topic of driverless vehicles and police interactions.
She says, “An autonomous car would be a programmable car. Perhaps speed enforcement will be a thing of the past, either because cars will be programmed to stay within the legal speed limit, or because such violations will be automatically enforced with a ticket sent to drivers’ electronic dashboards.”
“But even in this version of the future, police will still seize cars. A person inside the autonomous car may have an outstanding arrest warrant. The police may suspect that the car contains contraband or evidence of a crime. By no longer requiring human control, autonomous cars may even encourage more types of crime to take place within them.”
“The police and the public will interact differently when there is little human involvement in driving, so much of the Fourth Amendment is premised upon human drivers and human police officers, that means that a future of automated car stops will pose novel and difficult questions of law and policy that we should begin to address now.”
Fully autonomous vehicles are very much still in their infancy stage. Electric car manufacturer Tesla offers some form of autonomous driving in its vehicles, but for now, they still require a human driver to be in the car and to have their hands on the wheel so that they can intervene should anything go wrong.
While the video certainly proves autonomous vehicles can indeed be let loose on public roads, the ways in which they will truly and safely integrate with an already functioning society remains to be seen.