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Waymo explains what its self-driving cars should do when pulled over

A new guide describes how the autonomous vehicles are supposed to react with police vehicles and first responders.

Waymo

Every new driver learns to pull over and stop when a police car blaring red-and-blues approaches. But how would an autonomous vehicle handle being pulled over by the cops? As reported by The Washington Post today, Waymo has a new guide (PDF) that explains what its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids is supposed to do in those situations.

Waymo Castle Test

Waymo says its autonomous vehicles can tell if they're being pulled over by police and will stop accordingly.

Waymo

First, Waymo says that its self-driving cars will automatically yield to emergency vehicles as required by law. The company says that onboard sensors can detect lights and sirens, as well as the appearance of emergency vehicles. The cars will then "yield as appropriate to these emergency vehicles no matter which direction they are headed."

Next, if the Waymo vehicle detects that it's being pulled over by a police vehicle, it'll pull over and stop, then roll down the vehicle's windows and unlock the doors. Waymo says it can dispatch personnel to the car's location or communicate through an in-car intercom system. With the Pacifica Hybrid prototype cars intended to be Level 4 self-driving, meaning there's no human operator behind the wheel, that remote interaction will likely be critical. For the same reason, Waymo notes that registration and insurance info for the vehicles is prominently displayed on each front sun visor.

Other parts of the updated emergency guide advise first responders on how to deal with the Waymo vehicles in the case of a crash or other critical problem. One of the more interesting notes is a simple way to ensure the vehicle won't keep self-driving: because they can't operate in autonomous mode with the doors open, Waymo recommends emergency personnel simply open a door -- even if that means breaking a window first if the doors are locked. In fact, until the vehicle's battery can be disconnected, Waymo says that first responders should always keep at least one of its doors open.

Of course, the self-driving Pacifics are designed to stop if they detect that a crash has occurred. In the event of a crash or an airbag deployment, the vans should come to a stop and immediately call Waymo's support team so they can provide on-location help.

The guide isn't just hypothetical, as a Waymo vehicle was involved in an accident in Phoenix earlier this year. The tech company's guidelines clearly reflect an effort to keep both passengers and first responders safe in cases when the worst does happen.