The California Highway Patrol had some trouble pulling over a Tesla Model S early Friday morning, after the driver was determined to be asleep behind the wheel of the electric sedan while it was operating on Autopilot, Palo Alto Online reports.
At approximately 3:37 a.m., a 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 police cruiser joined the pursuit and one of the police cars positioned itself in front of the Tesla, which caused it to slow down — part of normal Autopilot operation.
All in all, it took about 7 miles and seven 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 California Highway Patrol 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.