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SPOTTED: ‘Driverless’ Vehicle Cruising the Streets of Clarendon

Update at 2:40 p.m. on 8/7/17 — Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in a statement to ARLnow: “ACPD is aware that driverless vehicles are being tested in the Commonwealth. Officers have not had contact with the vehicle observed in Clarendon. If officers observe a traffic violation, they will attempt a traffic stop.”

Update at 1:30 p.m. on 8/7/17 — NBC 4’s Adam Tuss, working on a follow-up story to this article, spotted the van driving around Clarendon on Monday, Aug. 7, and upon further inspection found a driver — disguised as a seat. Police were called after the driver ran a red light but officers were unable to locate the van, according to scanner traffic. Tuss’ report is expected to air Monday night.

Earlier: A mysterious, seemingly driverless van was spotted cruising the streets of Arlington’s Courthouse and Clarendon neighborhoods Thursday evening.

The unmarked gray van with Virginia license plates drove up and down Wilson and Clarendon Blvds more than a half dozen times — with no one in the driver’s seat or passenger seat. The rear windows of the Ford Transit Connect van were darkly tinted.

The van appeared to drive cautiously but keep up with traffic. Cameras and a light bar could be seen behind the windshield.

When the car stopped at a red light, the light bar started blinking. When the signal turned green and the car started driving, the blinking stopped.

The lack of a driver went mostly unnoticed as Clarendon residents went around their after-work routines near the Metro station, though occasionally people could be seen pointing at the car or asking someone nearby if they saw a driver.

Spokespeople for Arlington County, the Arlington County Police Department, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration did not have any immediate knowledge of any autonomous vehicle testing on the streets of Arlington.

VDOT and FHWA recently announced that Virginia Tech would be conducting automated vehicle testing along I-95, I-495, I-66, Route 50 and Route 29. The announcement did not mention testing on primary streets along Metro corridors, however WTOP reported in May that “self-driving cars already on Virginia roads, even if you don’t realize it.”

“In Virginia, it’s a little bit more discreet, so companies could test in real-world environments and you wouldn’t even know, so we have some proprietary studies going that route,” a Virginia Tech researcher was quoted as saying.

Anne Deekens, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, declined to say whether it belongs to the university. “I have no comment at this time,” she said.

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