A police officer near Google's Mountain View, California, headquarters pulled over a car Thursday for driving too slowly, only to find no one in the driver's seat.
This episode with Google's experimental, self-driving car underscores just how difficult it is for society to embrace a technology that could be the biggest innovation in transportation since the automobile itself.
The Mountain View Police Department reports an officer noticed the car going 24 mph in a 35 mph zone and opted to take action.
A statement from the department outlined the events:
"The officer stopped the car and made contact with the operators to learn more about how the car was choosing speeds along certain roadways and to educate the operators about impeding traffic per 22400(a) of the California Vehicle Code. The Google self-driving cars operate under the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Definition per 385.5 of the California Vehicle Code and can only be operated on roadways with speed limits at or under 35 mph. In this case, it was lawful for the car to be traveling on the street as El Camino Real is rated at 35 mph."
According to 22400(a) of the California Vehicle Code, "No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with law."
However, in this case, the Google car was in compliance with another law.
The Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Definition classification cited above means the law sees them differently than normal automobiles. They are subject to a different set of rules, including the regulation that prohibits them from operating on roadways with speed limits higher than 35 miles per hour.
Therefore, the car committed no violation, and the officer, therefore, did not write a ticket for its slow speed, CNN reports.
However, the officer did issue a warning for impeding traffic, as the slow speed was apparently blocking the flow of traffic.
In a statement posted yesterday on the company's Google+ page, Google stated it intentionally keeps its cars at low speeds.
"We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25 mph for safety reasons. We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets."
"After 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving (that’s the human equivalent of 90 years of driving experience), we’re proud to say we’ve never been ticketed!"
Google's self-driving cars are connected to human drivers who can help if a car does get pulled over, according to a rep from the Mountain View Police, via Twitter.
In the past year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has reported eight traffic incidents involving Google's self-driving cars.
However, in May of this year, Google's Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving car program, posted a blog saying that, in the six years since the launch of the self-driving car project, there had been 11 accidents, resulting in no injuries. He also said in every one of those incidents, the accidents were caused by the other driver.
A study from the University of Michigan, released in October, confirmed no accidents involving self-driving cars were caused by the cars themselves, but also stated the vehicles appear to have a higher crash rate per million miles traveled than cars with drivers.