A Tesla Model S owner in Alberta, Canada has been charged with dangerous driving after being pulled over for sleeping while traveling at a speed of 150 km / h (93 mph). The case raises questions about Tesla’s partially automated driving system, autopilot and driver complacency.
On July 9, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it had received a reckless driving complaint on Highway 2 near Ponoka, Alta. The 2019 Tesla Model S “appeared to be self-sufficient,” police said, “traveling over 140 km / h, with both front seats fully reclined and both occupants appearing asleep.
Officers began chasing the vehicle with their emergency lights flashing, at which point the vehicle “automatically started to accelerate,” eventually reaching a speed of 150 km / h, police said. After stopping the vehicle, the driver, a 21-year-old man from British Columbia, was charged with speeding and driving while fatigued, resulting in his 24-hour license suspension . The man was later charged with reckless driving as well.
“While new vehicle manufacturers have built in safeguards to prevent drivers from taking advantage of new vehicle safety systems, these systems are just that – additional safety systems,” said Superintendent Gary Graham of Services. Alberta RCMP traffic in a news release. “These are not stand-alone systems, they still have the responsibility to drive.”
A Tesla spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Autopilot is a partially autonomous Level 2 system that combines adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic parking, and more recently the ability to automatically change lanes. It uses a suite of sensors, including eight cameras, radar, and ultrasound, to automate some of the driving tasks, but it also forces drivers to stay engaged with the vehicle in order to operate.
Traffic investigators have proven that the automaker’s autopilot system has contributed to a number of fatal crashes in the past, and families of deceased drivers have sued Tesla for wrongful death.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk blamed crashes involving autopilot on driver overconfidence. “When there is a serious accident it’s almost always, in fact maybe always, the case where it’s a power user, and the problem is more one of complacency,” Musk said in 2018. But by marketing its system as “Autopilot,” Tesla has been shown to encourage driver inattention.
It is not known to what extent the owner of Tesla in Canada abused the autopilot. Tesla said the advanced driver assistance system will only work when it detects a driver’s hands on the steering wheel. If a driver’s hands are not detected, the display behind the steering wheel will begin to flash, followed by audible warnings, and eventually the autopilot will turn off.
Since its launch in 2015, Tesla owners have researched new and creative ways to trick Autopilot. People were eager to download videos sitting in the backseat as their cars drove “autonomously” on the freeway. Tesla responded by updating its software to make drivers keep their hands on the wheel – which seemed like a smart solution until a driver figured out that all you had to do to trick the system was to wedge an orange against the steering wheel to simulate the pressure of a human hand.
“Autopilot Buddy” was a piece of magnetic plastic that attaches to the steering wheel to give the impression that the driver is keeping their hands on it. Federal regulators have issued a cease-and-desist order to prevent its sale.
People love to cheat technology, even if it could cost them their lives.