The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have charged a twenty-year-old man with dangerous driving after he was arrested for allegedly being asleep while his 2019 Tesla Model S was traveling at more than ninety miles per hour.
The vehicle was operating in its semi-autonomous “Autopilot” mode in the town of Ponoka, Alberta, the RCMP said in a statement. Ponoka is located about fifty-five miles south of Edmonton.
At the time of the incident, another motorist placed an emergency call reporting that a Tesla was traveling at a high rate of speed, with the occupants of the front seats “completely reclined and . . . appearing to be asleep,” the statement said.
Officers began to pursue the Tesla with their emergency lights flashing, at which point the vehicle “automatically began to accelerate,” eventually reaching ninety-three miles per hour.
The diver has been summoned to appear in court in December.
“Although manufacturers of new vehicles have built in safeguards to prevent drivers from taking advantage of the new safety systems in vehicles, those systems are just that—supplemental safety systems,” Superintendent Gary Graham of Alberta RCMP Traffic Services said in a statement.
“They are not self-driving systems, they still come with the responsibility of driving.”
Autopilot is a partially autonomous system that combines adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, self-parking, and the ability to automatically change lanes. It employs an array of sensors, cameras, and radar to automate some of the driving tasks.
Tesla, though, has asserted in the past that drivers should maintain control of the vehicle even when the Autopilot system is in use.
The carmaker’s Autopilot system has been determined by traffic investigators to have contributed to a number of fatal crashes in the past.
Last year, a fifty-year-old man died in a crash after switching from manual mode to Autopilot, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
In 2018, Apple employee Walter Huang died when his car veered off a highway and crashed before bursting into flames. The Autopilot system had been in use for nearly twenty minutes, according to the NTSB.
Another man, Joshua Brown, died in 2016 when his Tesla crashed into a tractor-trailer in Florida while the Autopilot feature was active.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, however, has long defended the technology and placed much of the blame on overconfident drivers.
“When there is a serious accident it is almost always, in fact maybe always, the case that it is an experienced user, and the issue is more one of complacency,” Musk said in 2018.