TechTalk Tesla

Published on December 6th, 2018 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez


Drunk Driver Sleeps With Tesla Autopilot For 7-miles

It was recently reported in Palo Alto Online notes that a drunk person engaged autopilot mode in his Tesla and the car drove him for 7 miles while he slept.

Here is what happened. At approximately 3:37 a.m., a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer driving south on Highway 101 in Redwood City noticed a Model S traveling at 70 mph, which is above the posted limit. When the officer pulled alongside the car, he reportedly noticed that the driver appeared to be asleep while the car was in motion. After a few miles attempting to wake the driver with lights and sirens, another CHP cruiser joined the pursuit and one of the police cars positioned itself in front of the Tesla, which caused it to slow down, which is part of normal Autopilot operation.

All in all, it took about 7 miles and 7 minutes for the Tesla to come to a stop in the right-hand lane. It took officers a few more minutes to wake up the driver, who was taken to a Shell station where he reportedly failed a field sobriety test. Alexander Samek, chairman of the Los Altos planning commission, was arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence and was taken to the San Mateo County Jail.

This might sound like a first for any law enforcement agency in the United States, but Palo Alto Online notes that the CHP already encountered another drunken driver asleep at the wheel in a Tesla set on Autopilot. In that incident, which took place near the Bay Bridge, the driver had been operating the vehicle while at twice the legal alcohol limit.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this story is that the car was able to travel at least 7 miles on Autopilot without disengaging (and that the car didn’t crash into anything or anyone).

Needless to say, Autopilot use is not a defense against DUI charges and should not be relied upon regardless of whether the driver is drunk or sober. Tesla cautions that drivers using the driver-assist feature must keep their hands on the steering wheel, stay alert, and be ready to take over within a moment’s notice. But at least in this case, there’s no mechanism to hold the driver to those duties.

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