A Tesla driver has been charged with dangerous driving in Canada after the car was pulled over to find that both occupants were allegedly “asleep” in reclined seats, and the car was apparently driving over the speed limit on Autopilot.
The alarm was raised in a complaint to Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Alberta on Thursday and a photo shared of the Tesla Model S in question on the RCMP Alberta’s Twitter page.
“The car appeared to be self-driving, travelling over 140 km/hr with both front seats completely reclined & occupants appeared to be asleep,” wrote RCMP Alberta.
Like Australia, most highways in Canada are limited to 100 or 110km/hr.
Alberta RCMP received a complaint of a car speeding on Hwy 2 near #Ponoka. The car appeared to be self-driving, travelling over 140 km/h with both front seats completely reclined & occupants appeared to be asleep. The driver received a Dangerous Driving charge & summons for court pic.twitter.com/tr0RohJDH1
— RCMP Alberta (@RCMPAlberta) September 17, 2020
According to the Guardian, which reported on the incident, the 20-year-old driver was charged with speeding and handed a licence suspension for 24 hours. He will appear in court in December.
If the driver was indeed asleep, it portrays a very bad image for self-driving technology.
However findings over previous incidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot technology have highlighted the fault of the driver and highway authorities, as full Level 5 autonomous driving (that does not require driver attention) is neither enabled by car makers nor approved by regulators.
A 2018 incident involving the death of a Tesla driver who drove into a highway barrier found the driver had been playing a game on his phone but also blamed regulators for taking a “hands-off approach”.
Other incidents have also highlighted what has been referred to as “automation complacency” by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as reported by the Guardian.
“We urge Tesla to continue to work on improving Autopilot technology and for NHTSA to fulfill its oversight responsibility to ensure that corrective action is taken when necessary,” Robert L. Sumwalt, the board’s chairman, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
“It’s time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars.”
A number of people pointed out in response to the Twitter post that Tesla’s Autopilot technology is currently designed to alert the driver if the steering wheel is not moved manually for more than a minute, and suggested that the incident may have been a prank.
“They would have had to fall asleep in the <2mins it would allow you to not apply torque before slowing to a stop. It’s just someone being dumb for a prank,” said a Twitter user called Brandon.
“@RCMPAlberta the guy was pranking you! Teslas do not allow for “sleeping at the wheel.” The driver is required to toggle the wheel, make other adjustments roughly every 20 seconds. If those are not attended to, the car stops,” wrote Leslie Ham.
Another report suggested the driver may have had a weight on the steering wheel. Whether or not this proves to be true when the driver appears in court, RCMP has still reported it recorded the driver was going over the speed limit.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.