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Police may have used Tesla’s Autopilot feature to stop driver asleep at the wheel

Police may have used Tesla’s Autopilot feature to stop driver asleep at the wheel

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Photo: Tesla

Redwood City California Highway Patrol stopped a Tesla Model 3 they suspected was running Autopilot with a drunk driver asleep at the wheel. The incident occurred last Friday, November 30th at 3:37AM PT, when officers observed a car going 70 mph on Highway 101 with a driver that appeared to be asleep.

After flashing their lights and sirens in an attempt to pull the car over, the officers deployed a strategy based around their assumption that the Tesla Model 3 was running on Autopilot. According to the CHP incident report, two unit cars pulled up in front and behind the Tesla to get the car to gradually come to a stop, after a seven-mile chase. A statement from the CHP reads, “We cannot confirm at this time if the “driver assist” feature was activated but considering the vehicle’s ability to slow to a stop when [the driver] was asleep, it appears the “driver assist” feature may have been active at the time.”

It’s difficult to determine whether Autopilot was actually on at the time, as the feature requires drivers to keep a firm grip on the steering wheel for it to stay engaged. It’s possible that the driver may have had another Tesla Model 3 feature on, like Traffic Aware Cruise Control, which manages speed against the car in front of the Tesla.

it’s not confirmed whether it was actually on autopilot

It’s not clear which exact feature was engaged, as Teslas have several different autonomous driving features and it can be confusing to keep track of all of them. Most people, even cops and some Tesla drivers, aren’t totally sure what Teslas can do. Tesla warns that Autopilot is only meant to be used on highways, and still requires the driver to remain fully alert while driving, but cases like these show that drivers will continue to abuse Autopilot features and misinterpret them as “self-driving.”

CHP public information officer Art Montiel told the LA Times that “there was no training for the situation the officers encountered and attributed the outcome to their ‘quick thinking.’” So while there isn’t yet a standard plan for pulling over a car with an unresponsive driver using some of this technology, it seems likely that police officers will devise one.