Phoenix cop pulls over errant Waymo self-driving car that 'freaked out'

Google-owned Waymo runs a fleet of self-driving vehicles in Phoenix that are approved to operate without a human in the cabin — they’re even used for ridesharing, and occasionally, requesting an Uber will result in Uber offering to send a driverless Waymo car. Autonomy is still learning its way around town, so the fleet endures its occasional mishaps. One June 19, a Reddit post started with a photo of a Phoenix police officer pulling over a Waymo car, the poster asking, “How does it work?”

Arizona Central followed up on the Reddit post, acquiring bodycam footage from the police department. According to the police report, the car drove through a construction zone and then got on the wrong side of the road after the zone, driving against traffic. When the officer flipped on his lights, the Waymo car “freaked out” and ran a red light before pulling into a parking lot. As the officer walks up to the Waymo, the car rolls down its windows. With no driver inside, the empty vehicle automatically connects to Rider Support. When the officer explains what happened, the tech at the other end says he’ll check the video. 

The footage of the stop itself concludes, and we’re left to suppose this exchange was the end of it.

When AZ Central asked Waymo about the incident, the autonomy company initially didn’t have any comment. When the outlet said they were running the story, Waymo suddenly wanted to expand on the situation. Perhaps it would have been better if the company hadn’t done so; we only wish we could get away with such explanations. The spokesperson said the car “encountered inconsistent construction signage,” entering the oncoming traffic lane when it was “blocked from navigating back into the correct lane,” and ran the red light in “an effort to clear the intersection.”

There are supposedly processes in place to issue citations to driverless vehicles, but police departments have said this isn’t the case. The Phoenix PD police report said the officer was “Unable to issue a citation to computer,” so that’s that, and life goes on. So, to the original Reddit poster, that’s how it works. The next time we get pulled over, we’re going to tell the officer we’ll review the video, then call in later to say bad signage was the problem, okthxbye. 

One day, self-driving cars will be a boon to us all. Until then, stay frosty.

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