While police officers occasionally discover drivers asleep in their vehicles, it’s quite uncommon to find a driver asleep in a vehicle traveling at 70 mph. This alleged incident occurred on Highway 101 in Palo Alto, California, slightly after 3 A.M. on November 30.
My initial reaction was “huh? That just doesn’t sound right,” but then you remember all the new technology, including Tesla’s Autopilot, a feature that offers a certain degree of self-driving functionality. In fact, the vehicle was a Tesla Model S, though it is yet to be confirmed whether it was equipped with Autopilot. However, the description of the incident seems to suggest this was the case.
Officers with the California Highway Patrol performed terrifically, though they were understandably displeased regarding the occupant apparently sleeping at the wheel of a moving car. The officers acted quick to figure out and execute a plan to bring the vehicle to a halt as it traveled along the highway.
They decided to call in additional patrol cars, with several driving beside the Tesla to slow down traffic that was coming up the rear. Meanwhile, one of the cars took a separate position just ahead of the Tesla before it began gradually slowing down, causing the Model S to copy the motions.
During the whole operation, it took a total of seven minutes and seven miles to bring the Tesla to a safe stop. According to local media, cops needed to bang on the window to awake the driver, who was later identified as Los Altos planning commissioner Alexander Samek. He was arrested at the scene on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The strangest part of this story, however, is that Tesla’s Autopilot mode requires the driver to put their hands on the wheel every-so-often in order for the car to proceed. If you fail to do so, Tesla’s system is expected to automatically slow to a safe halt until the driver demonstrate that they once again have overall control of the vehicle by grasping the wheel.
The California Highway Patrol’s efforts to stop the Model S safely is commendable, while others also praise Tesla’s technology as it appeared to prevent an accident from occurring while the driver wasn’t in full control. Of course the company will still investigate the full facts of the case, and to fully understand how the car was capable of operating if the driver was truly asleep.
California Highway Patrol public information officer Art Montiel commented on the unusual incident, stating: “It’s great that we have this technology; however, we need to remind people that … even though this technology is available, they need to make sure they know they are responsible for maintaining control of the vehicle.”