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It wasn’t the fact that the police had stopped the driverless car that caught the world’s attention. That had already happened in 2015, when California cops pulled over one of Google’s self-driving cars. It was the fact that the driverless vehicle appeared to flee the scene that made it a historic bust. Here was a machine acting very, very human.

The incident, which occurred recently on a cool San Francisco night, would never have made the old television show Cops. There was no violence, no exploitation of society’s unfortunates, nothing tawdry, nothing worthy of our insipid eyeballs. Police stopped a Chevy that was driving without its headlights on. This was not, however, a routine stop.

“Ain’t nobody in it,” one bystander observantly called as a police officer approached, but this information was ignored.

The officer peered into the driver’s side window and attempted to open the door. Stymied, he walked back to his vehicle; as he did, the Chevy darted through the intersection, appearing to make an escape. This would have been the moment, on Cops, that officers swooped in, clubs swinging. Such heroics, however, were unnecessary. Rather than fleeing, the Chevy Cruise AV came to a gentle rest where a gaggle of police arrived there seconds later.

A woman watching the drama unfold spoke for us all when she cried, “On my god … FINALLY.”

Finally, indeed.

How long have we waited to see police officers ticket the invisible man? Here was the vanguard of the robotaxi industry, an industry that the UBS Evidence Lab believes will be worth at least US$2-trillion annually by 2030, getting done on a traffic violation.

The Chevy was part of the GM-backed Cruise driverless service in San Francisco. The company was formed in 2013. Since then, its fleet of more than 300 autonomous EVs has logged more than two million miles in pilot cities Phoenix and San Francisco. According to the San Francisco Examiner, the city by the bay is the AV capital. “Waymo, a Google subsidiary, notched more than 2.3 million miles in 567 vehicles in 2021, the majority of which took place in San Francisco, the company confirmed. Cruise, a subsidiary of GM, recorded 876,000 miles of autonomous driving in 168 vehicles last year.” Waymo plans to also offer driverless robotaxis.

In January, 2022, Cruise made it possible for San Francisco riders to hire a driverless nighttime ride. Hopefuls sign up for a waiting list. The “Ain’t-nobody-in-it” caper was the first time a Cruise AV was stopped by police. The video went viral (as these videos often do) not because of the milestone that had been reached but because of the satisfaction we humans enjoyed watching a machine act just like one of us. Philosopher Henri Bergson maintained that comedy derived from people acting like machines, “the mechanical encrusted upon the living.” This was a case of the living being encrusted upon the mechanical.

Anyone who has received a ticket knows the experience can raise blood pressure. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you somehow feel guilty. Panic is a possibility. According to Cruise, the Chevy AV was not driving away, it was merely moving to a safer location to park.

The Cruise’s “park and fly” stunt poses several questions.

If rogue police officers pull over a driverless car, who will they hassle?

Should driverless cars come with crash test dummies or Bobo dolls? To make them more police friendly.

If driverless cars obey directives from the police without escalating the possibility of violence, how can human beings claim to be better drivers? For instance, on April 12, Chicago police pulled over a driver at a traffic light and asked him to step out of his vehicle. Instead, he hit the gas, injuring a police officer and a five-year-old girl. If the car had been driverless both the cop and the girl would be fine. Driverless cars don’t drink and drive. They don’t get distracted; they don’t take drugs and drive. They don’t do anything but drive.

Human drivers are stupid and energetic.

Let’s pause for a moment to speculate on what would have happened to a flesh and blood driver who when stopped by police, did not respond, or open his door, and then sped through an intersection. At the very least, he would have received a ticket.

The Cruise AV?

No citation was issued. It pays to be mechanical.

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