Phoenix Police Officer Bemused After Pulling Over Driverless Waymo Taxi

The AV was stopped because it drove into oncoming lanes of traffic

Graham Hope

July 3, 2024

3 Min Read
A Waymo car drives along a street on March 01, 2023 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The potential confusion self-driving taxis can cause police officers has been highlighted again following a bizarre incident in Phoenix. 

As bodycam footage published by the website shows, an officer was left bemused when he pulled over a car, only to find there was no one driving it.

That’s because the vehicle in question was one of Waymo’s converted autonomous Jaguar I-Pace SUVs, which have become an increasingly familiar sight as the company’s presence in the city has grown over the past couple of years.

The AV was stopped because – as the officer is seen in the video explaining to Waymo’s remotely based support hub – it “drove into oncoming lanes of traffic.”

The taxi was traveling eastbound in a westbound lane near Seventh Avenue and West Osborn Road in the city. As was recorded in subsequently revealed police dispatch records, the AV also ran a red light and according to the officer who witnessed the incident, “freaked out.”

There was no other vehicle involved and no passengers were on board.

However, a picture of the officer’s attempt to pull over the Waymo was captured and posted online on Reddit, sparking a debate among users and interest from local media, which ultimately prompted the company to issue a statement explaining what had happened.

Related:Uber Offers Waymo Driverless Taxis in Phoenix

According to Waymo, the I-Pace “encountered inconsistent construction signage” and went into the oncoming lane of traffic.  It was then “blocked from navigating back into the correct lane” before the cop car pulled in behind it.

The AV went on to clear an intersection and stop in the next available parking lot, with the whole episode lasting around a minute.

While the incident could be written off as relatively minor, it has brought into sharp focus the uncertainty that surrounds how first responders deal with unmanned vehicles that behave in an unexpected fashion.

While Waymo’s taxis can detect emergency vehicles and stop when requested, there’s generally a need for whoever is at the scene to be able to talk to a human – so, as was the case in this video, the officer had to contact support via intercom and a member of staff ultimately arrived to assist.

The incident has also prompted intense discussion online about other factors, including what the punishment should be for AVs that persistently violate the rules of the road (as there is no driver to ticket), and how police might treat passengers in an unmanned vehicle that has been stopped.

There have been other, similar incidents over the past couple of years, and with the technology still in its infancy, there’s clearly a need for operators and first responders to work together further to develop an established set of procedures.

Related:Self-Driving GM Cruise Stopped by Police in San Francisco

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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