Late last week, Washington, DC-area news outlets began reporting that a self-driving car was being tested on public roads in Arlington, Virginia. The reality, however, was much more low-tech.
ARLNow.com first broke the news with a video and report of a driverless car driving through the Clarendon neighborhood. DCist shared the video in a since-updated article originally titled, “There Are Already Driverless Cars On Virginia Roads. Watch One In Action.”
“Apparently, Old Dominion has been the testing grounds for some new technology, namely driverless cars,” wrote DCist. The next day Business Insider also shared the video, suggesting the vehicle could be the work of a tech company or a part of local university or military research.
Except, it wasn’t a driverless car, as NBC Washington transportation reporter Adam Tuss discovered today when he pulled up next to the 2017 Ford Transit Connect at a stoplight and peered inside, finding someone in a car seat costume. The driver didn’t respond to Tuss’ request to pull over and talk, and reportedly drove through a red light to get away.
Tuss posted a video of his attempt to speak to the driver. “Brother, who are you? What are you doing? I’m with the news, dude,” the dogged reporter asked the car seat with a human inside.
News of a driverless car casually driving through Virginia neighborhoods seemed especially plausible given that the technology is reportedly already being tested on designated highways in Northern Virginia.
“ACPD is aware that driverless vehicles are being tested in the Commonwealth,” Arlington County Police even told ARLNow.com in statement. “Officers have not had contact with the vehicle observed in Clarendon. If officers observe a traffic violation, they will attempt a traffic stop.”
There are many YouTube videos of pranksters using the seat costume to fool drive-through restaurant employees, but this is one of the first instances of news outlets being bamboozled by the trick.
Update 5:45pm: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute told NBC Washington that the driver is involved in research about self-driving cars—presumably about public reaction to driverless cars. The institute spokesperson said, “The driver’s seating area is configured to make the driver less visible within the vehicle, while still allowing him or her the ability to safely monitor and respond to surroundings.”