Tesla’s autopilot is meant to be an assist function for alert drivers both to increase their driving pleasure and to add a level of vehicle safety. However, stories of irresponsible users occasionally enter the news cycle, this time from a 2019 Model S owner in Alberta, Canada. On Thursday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reported the arrest, license suspension and court summoning of a young British Columbia driver after using his Tesla’s autopilot while he slept. The all-electric sedan hit over 90mph before stopping during the crash on July 9, 2020.
“Alberta RCMP received a complaint about a car accelerating on Hwy 2 near #Ponoka. The car appeared to be self-driving, was traveling at over 1
Alberta RCMP received a complaint about a car accelerating on nearby Hwy 2 #Ponoka. The car seemed self-driving, traveling at over 140km / h with both front seats fully reclined, and the occupants appeared to be sleeping. The driver received a dangerous driving charge and a court subpoena pic.twitter.com/tr0RohJDH1
– RCMP Alberta (@RCMPAlberta) 17 September 2020
The Tesla Model S is also said to automatically accelerate from around 87 mph to around 93 mph when approached by the police vehicle. No injuries were caused by the accident.
In a more detailed report on the RCMP website, it was noted that the 20-year-old driver received a 24-hour license suspension for fatigue after being stopped. Also, the driver’s court date is set for December to face the charges. “Although new vehicle manufacturers have integrated safety measures to prevent drivers from taking advantage of the new vehicle safety systems, those systems are just that – supplemental safety systems,” said Superintendent Gary Graham of Alberta RCMP Traffic Services in the RCMP report. “They are not self-driving systems, they still have responsibility for driving.”
Some responses to the RCMP’s Twitter post suggested that the two occupants of the Tesla Model S were likely playing a prank on spectators and police, but the lack of street awareness during the event is still dangerous regardless of intent. It also explicitly goes against Tesla’s user manual along with frequent and insistent reminders that the feature is not meant to work without human supervision at this time. As any autopilot user can attest, the vehicles will remind drivers to stay alert and get their hands on the wheel if their presence is not detected for a few seconds, boosting visual and audible warnings and eventually locking the driver out from the trip duration function if repeatedly ignored.
However, Tesla’s ability to manipulate the autopilot system is being exploited despite warnings against such action and for this reason heavy criticism has been leveled at the electric automaker. For example, US Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts last December asked the company to disable the feature until its “flaws” were fixed.
“The autopilot clearly cannot be authorized to replace drivers on our roads. This technology will continue to cause damage until Tesla takes action to fix its faulty system and make sure drivers pay attention,” Markey wrote on Twitter. “That’s why I sent a letter asking Tesla to take action to protect the public.” His comments were in response to an accident involving a Tesla crashing into a police car. According to reports, the driver was checking his dog in the back seat at the time of the collision.
For those who need assistance in understanding the safety precautions required while using the autopilot, or maybe a little laugh, Teslarati has put together something for the occasion: “The Tesla Hitchhiker’s Guide to Getting the Most Out of your autopilot experience “.