California Highway Patrol officers arrested a man on Friday who had been asleep at the wheel of his Tesla – while the vehicle appeared to continue driving by itself.
It’s not yet been confirmed whether Autopilot, Tesla’s brand name for its suite of semi-autonomous driving technologies, was engaged at the time of the incident. However, while the man slept, his Tesla continued down the road – and it took several officers seven miles to successfully stop it.
The driver, Alexander Samek, was arrested on Friday immediately after the incident, on a charge of driving while drunk. The officers from the scene told the San Francisco Chronicle that they saw Samek asleep at the wheel, but the car remained in its lane, leading them to believe its Autopilot functions were engaged.
Officers slowed traffic behind the Tesla and then drove a patrol car directly in front of Samek, slowing down gradually and forcing the Tesla to do the same. It eventually came to a stop in the middle of the highway.
Autopilot is a sophisticated combination of radar-guided cruise control and lane-keeping functions, which allow Tesla drivers to continue on clearly marked roads with no driver input. However, the system requires the driver to put his or her hands on the wheel at regular intervals to signify they’re still alert, as the system is not capable of fully autonomous driving.
If the driver doesn’t respond to signals, the car should slow down on its own, before coming to a complete stop and turning on its hazard lights. Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed this in a tweet, saying the company would be ‘looking into what happened here’.
California Highway Patrol public information officer Art Montiel told the Chronicle that police suspect Autopilot was engaged at the time. He said: “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.”