If you live in an urban center in the United States chances are that you have seen more than a few Tesla’s roaming the streets. If you pay close enough attention you might even notice some of these drivers doing things other than driving thanks to Tesla’s autopilot feature. This has lead to a recent phenomenon that has led many police departments puzzled: if a driver is incapacitated while the Tesla is in autopilot, how do you pull the car over?
The California Highway Patrol recently faced this issue in November when they encountered a Tesla going 70 MPH on the highway with the driver clearly asleep at the wheel. Since the vehicle’s autopilot does not respond to flashing lights alone, the highway patrol had to pull in front of the Tesla and slow down until the vehicle came to a complete stop.
While the California officers were able to find a peaceful resolution to the situation, this predicament does raise an interesting issue: should autonomous vehicles be allowed on the road before they know how to deal with emergency services? That is a question that all autonomous car makers have to grapple with before robotic drivers can fully take control of America’s roads.
Waymo LLC, is autonomous-driving startup launched by Google’s parent company that is focusing on providing driverless taxis in the near future. The Insurance Journal spoke with a Waymo spokesperson about the issue of police interactions with autonomous technology. The spokesperson had this to say about the issue: “[Our] company’s fleet can distinguish between civilians and police standing in the roadway and can follow hand signals. ‘They will yield and respond based on recognition that it is a police officer,’ she says. ‘Our cars do really well navigating construction zones and responding to uniformed officers.’”.
This is just one example of a “what if” scenario that autonomous cars will face. These seemingly one-off problems are going to take time to solve, and will likely be the single biggest factor that prevents autonomous technology from mainstream use for the immediate future. For now, even if you are in a Tesla, your best bet is to keep both hands on the wheel.