Tesla autopilot blamed as driver found asleep at 70mph

Irving Hamilton
December 4, 2018

Despite blaring sirens, flashing lights, and shouts from the officers, the speeding Tesla Model S just kept going.

The officers saw the vehicle traveling at about 70 miles per hour and realized the driver appeared to be unconscious, officials said.

After 7 miles, and assuming the vehicle was on Autopilot or at least on adaptive cruise control, the troopers came up with a strategy: With another CHP cruiser bringing up the rear to keep other motorists from approaching in case something went wrong, the troopers passed the auto to position themselves in front of it, then they gradually slowed down - and the Tesla dutifully slowed with them, until it came to a stop.

The Model 3 autopilot system responded by also slowing down and eventually came to a stop. Officers could then finally question the dozing driver, who turned out to be 45-year old Alexander Samek, who serves on the Los Altos Planning Commission. The auto is created to alert a driver if it does not detect hands on the wheel. He was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and booked into the San Mateo County jail.

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"We can not confirm at this time if the "driver assist" feature was activated but considering the vehicle's ability to slow to a stop when Samek was asleep, it appears the "driver assist" feature may have been active at the time", said the Highway Patrol.

Tesla has long emphasized that Autopilot does not make a vehicle fully autonomous, but is designed for use on highways that have a center divider and clear lane markings.

However, autopilot is supposed to detect if the driver's hands are on the wheel or not and recent software updates warn drivers in as little as 30 seconds if it suspects they may not be paying attention. In that incident, which took place near the Bay Bridge, the driver had been operating the vehicle while at twice the legal alcohol limit.

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