Skip to main content

Officers confused as they pull over an empty self-driving car

In what appears to be the first incident of its kind, police officers recently pulled over a self-driving car with no one inside it.

The incident, which took place on a street in San Francisco earlier this month, was caught on video by a passing pedestrian. It shows several traffic cops pondering about how to handle the incident after stopping the vehicle for failing to have its front lights on while driving at night.

Welcome to the future. Cop pulls over driverless car (because no lights?) Then Cruise goes on the lamb. (via

— Seth Weintraub (@llsethj) April 10, 2022

The footage shows the autonomous car, operated by GM-owned Cruise, waiting at a stoplight. As an officer emerges from his vehicle and approaches the robo-car, someone can be heard calling out, “Ain’t nobody in it.”

The officer peers into the vehicle, realizes that there is indeed no one inside, and returns to the police car.

At this point, the Cruise car looks like it’s about to flee the scene when it suddenly speeds off.

However, once it passes through the green light and reaches the other side of the junction, the car’s hazard lights come on as it comes to a halt by the sidewalk.

As the police car drives up behind the Cruise vehicle for a second time, a bemused bystander can be heard saying, “I’m gonna have to watch this.”

This time, two officers emerge from the police vehicle and approach the empty robo-car. A crowd of onlookers can be heard chuckling at the strange turn of events as the officers spend several minutes hanging around the vehicle. The video ends shortly after a third officer arrives on the scene.

It later emerged that one of the policemen had called Cruise personnel via a phone number displayed on the autonomous vehicle.

Shortly after the video appeared online on Sunday, Cruise responded with a tweet, saying: “Our [autonomous vehicle] yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop, as intended. An officer contacted Cruise personnel and no citation was issued.” Another tweet said: “We work closely with the SFPD on how to interact with our vehicles, including a dedicated phone number for them to call in situations like this.”

It’s not clear why the headlights on the Cruise car were off as it drove along the streets at night, but Cruise told Digital Trends that the issue has now been fixed.

While there have already been a number of reported incidents of self-driving cars being pulled over by cops for apparent driving violations, this appears to have been the first case where the autonomous car had no safety driver or passengers inside. Following years of on-road testing with a safety driver aboard, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles gave Cruise permission to drive fully driverless vehicles on the streets of San Francisco at the end of 2020.

This month’s incident highlights some of the unexpected scenarios that can occur with the autonomous technology, though one hopes that such safety-related incidents will be few and far between if autonomous cars ever go mainstream.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Robotaxi firm Cruise ordered to halve fleet following incidents
A Cruise autonomous car.

Autonomous car company Cruise has been told by regulators to halve its robotaxi fleet in San Francisco following a crash with a fire truck on Thursday in which the driverless car's passenger suffered minor injuries.

The regulator -- the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) -- said that it’s looking into “recent concerning incidents” involving self-driving Cruise cars operating on the city’s public roads.

Read more
An autonomous car in San Francisco got stuck in wet concrete
A Cruise autonomous car.

A self-driving car operated by General Motors-backed Cruise got stuck on Tuesday when it drove into a patch of wet concrete.

The incident happened in San Francisco and occurred just days after California's Public Utilities Commission made a landmark decision when it voted to allow autonomous-car companies Cruise and Waymo to expand their paid ridesharing services in the city to all hours of the day instead of just quieter periods.

Read more
Waymo taps the brakes on its autonomous-trucking project
A Waymo autonomous trick undergoing testing on a highway.

Six years after launching its autonomous-truck program, Waymo has said it’s decided to focus more on developing its ridesharing ambitions using its self-driving cars and minivans.

The California-based, Alphabet-owned company said its decision to effectively put autonomous trucking on the back burner is down to the “tremendous momentum and substantial commercial opportunity” that it’s seeing with the pilot ridesharing service it launched in Arizona in 2018 before taking it to several other states. Customers involved in the program can use an app to call a Waymo driverless car in the same way they would book an Uber.

Read more