Let this be a lesson all Tesla Model S owners; don’t sleep and let the Model S drive

A strange incident happened in Canada recently involving a couple of people, two seats that were “fully reclined,” and a Tesla Model S that was driving 140 km/h (87 mph) on Autopilot. As a report from Canada’s federal police goes, a Tesla Model S driver was cited for a dangerous driving charge after he was caught sleeping with his seat “fully reclined” as his Model S was running at high speeds on one of the country’s highways. The Alberta RCMP was alerted of the incident by a commuter who noticed that both front seats were completely reclined, and both occupants appeared to be sleeping. Responding officers pursued the self-driving electric sedan until it stopped. In addition to the dangerous driving charge, the driver also received a speeding ticket for deciding to take a nap while he was on the road. As stories of Tesla’s Autopilot systems go, this one ranks up there as one of the most surreal incidences involving Tesla’s self-driving technology. Fortunately, the driver’s recklessness didn’t result in any car crashes or accidents, only a few punishments for his unparalleled recklessness and inanity.

What happened here?

The Royal Canadian Mountie Police (RCMP) received a complaint from a car speeding on Highway 2 near Ponoka, Alberta, in Canada.

The complaint centered on a Model S that was going over 140 km/h (87 mph) on a highway that had a 120 km/h (74.5 mph) speed limit.

That’s worrying enough on its own, but the complaint wasn’t about the speeding Model S, but, rather, about the occupants of the electric sedan, both of whom, according to reports, were sleeping as the Tesla was driving along the highway. Needless to say, the Autopilot system in the Model S was engaged at that time, further complicating what was already a complicated situation to begin with.

An Alberta RCMP Traffic Services officer eventually tracked down the vehicle, but instead of slowing down, the officer reported that the Model S “automatically began to accelerate,” reaching speeds of 150 km/h (93 mph). The officer managed to pull the vehicle over when the driver, a 20-year-old male, woke up to regain control of the car.

The driver was initially charged with speeding, but further investigation into the incident led to a more serious dangerous driving charge after it was determined that his handling of the Model S — or lack thereof, in this case — posed a serious hazard to public safety.

If found guilty, the driver could have his license suspended for a year and, worse, he could also face up to five years in prison.

This is next-level stupidity, isn’t it?

2017 Tesla Model S
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You better believe it, and even calling it that doesn’t do justice to the kind of stupidity in play here. It’s one thing to engage Autopilot in your Model S because you want to read the paper or talk on the phone; it’s another thing entirely to do it because you want to get some needed night-night time. The stupidity that’s in play here is off-the-charts. Not only does the act pose a danger to both the driver and his passenger, but worse, the recklessness poses a serious threat to all the other commuters that are in the area of the Model S. What if the Model S crashes while those two were sleeping inside? There’s no way for them to protect themselves. What about the other people that could end up being on the other end of the crash? Sure, nothing of that sort happened, but the mere thought that it could have is reason enough for these two knuckleheads to get punished to the full extent of Canada’s road laws.

Why did the Autopilot system remain engaged even with the occupants sleeping?

That’s the curious thing about this whole episode.

Tesla’s Autopilot system is not a “self-driving” system; it’s a suite of driver-assist features that includes self-driving capability with some caveats thrown in.

One of those caveats is a system that requires drivers to frequently apply light pressure to the steering wheel for Autopilot to remain engaged. Strangely, Autopilot remained active even as the two occupants were sleeping, but there have been go-arounds — attaching a weight to the steering wheel is one — that Tesla owners have found to keep Autopilot arrive even if they don’t put their hands on the steering wheel. While that is possible, it’s also extremely dangerous, and anybody with a speck of sense in their heads would know better not to mess around with the system. Unfortunately, the driver of this particular Model S doesn’t appear to have any sense in his head.

Learn your lesson

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It’s not the first time people have done idiotic things while driving a car, but this one takes the cake because of how brazen it all looks. First of all, using Autopilot at normal speeds already requires a certain amount of focus and attention on the driver’s part. Increase that speed to near Autopilot’s speed limit — 150 km/h (93 mph) — and you really have to pay attention to the car. But to sleep in the car while Autopilot is running at 140 km/h (87 mph) is stupid and dangerous beyond reproach.

The driver of the Model S deserved the punishment he received, and, hopefully, he learns a valuable lesson from this ordeal. You can use Autopilot as much as you want. But when you do, be very careful and attentive to your surroundings. Don’t recline your seat, close your eyes, and go to sleep. That’s wrong on so many levels.

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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