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Who gets the ticket when a self-driving car is pulled over?

In this Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015 photo provided by Zandr Milewski, a California police officer pulls over a self-driving car specially designed by Google that was being tested on a local road in Mountain View, Calif. The police officer saw the car going a road-clogging 24 mph in a 35 mph zone and realized it was a Google Autonomous Vehicle. After getting closer to it he noticed that there was no one actually driving the car. The officer stopped the car and contacted the person behind the wheel to say the vehicle was impeding traffic, but he didn’t give out a citation. (Zandr Milewski via AP)

More than a million miles on the road and no ticket yet – that was the humblebrag via Google after one of its driverless cars was pulled over in Mountain View, Calif., last week.

Here’s how it all went down, according to our colleague Dana Hedgpeth —

An officer in Mountain View, Calif., apparently saw traffic backed up behind the little white vehicle. The car was traveling 24 mph in a stretch where the posted speed limit was 35 mph. The officer realized it was self-driving car and pulled it over. The officer then “made contact with the operators to learn more about how the car was choosing speeds along certain roadways and to educate the operators about impeding traffic,” according to a post on the police department’s blog.

The incident drew many a click and comment and while no ticket was issued, it did raise this question — when a driverless car violates the rules, who gets the ticket?

According to Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor in the School of Law at the University of South Carolina and an expert on the law of self-driving vehicles, California law allows Google to test its cars on public roads, provided there is a human operator. And so in the event the car is pulled over for a violation and a ticket is issued, the person who Google (or the responsible company) has designated as the operator would be responsible for the ticket, Smith said.

What it’s like to drive in Google’s self-driving car

Smith said he had to chuckle at how quickly last week’s traffic stop made the rounds on the Web. The former transportation engineer, who also is an affiliate scholar with the Center for Internet and Society at the Stanford University Law School. Google’s self-driving vehicles are often spotted on roads around Silicon Valley, where the tech giant is based and such stops have happened before. But he theorized that perhaps this one drew more attention because there were pictures.

So to review: you can’t get out of that traffic ticket by saying the car had a mind of its own.