How police stopped a speeding Tesla with a sleeping driver behind the wheel

Sleeping man in high-tech Tesla remains asleep amid miles-long car chase in California

Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 03 December 2018 22:51 GMT
Video shows man sitting in passenger seat of Tesla while car is set to autopilot

It was far from the typical high-speed car chase, but police may have discovered a new way to prevent deadly collisions after a driver fell asleep behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S.

California Highway Patrol attempted to pull over a vehicle heading south on Highway 101 at 70 miles per hour, using a siren and flashing their lights to get the driver’s attention. After the car failed to pull over or respond to their signals, officers drove alongside the vehicle to discover a shocking sight: the driver, later suspected of driving under the influence, had fallen asleep at the wheel.

In a quick-witted move, the officers called in backup and created a plan: since they were unable to wake up the driver, they would have to activate the technological features used by Tesla vehicles in order to stop the car.

Since the Tesla Model S was likely in autopilot and, according to the company’s website, is equipped with “the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially grater than that of a human driver,” police decided to effectively exploit a "driver assist" feature that can ultimately bring the car to a halt when it's in danger of slamming into an object in front of it.

One of the patrol officers sped ahead of the Tesla as additional units blocked traffic from behind. As the officer in front of the Tesla slowed down, the vehicle’s computer algorithms and cameras kicked in, causing it to slow down before crashing into the police car.

The driver has been identified as 45-year-old Alexander Joseph Samek, Los Angeles Times reported, who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence during the incident that took place 30 November at about 3:30 am local time.

What’s more, Mr Samek did not even wake up after the car had come to a full stop: officers were forced to wake hm up by knocking on the window, according to a police report that indicated the autopilot feature was likely on “considering the vehicle’s ability to slow to a stop when Samek was asleep.”

It may be the first time police successfully prevented a collision using Tesla's technological features.

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In May, a Tesla sedan crashed into a parked police cruiser in Southern California. The driver of the Tesla suffered minor injuries, though there were no officers inside the vehicle at the time of the incident.

Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode has come under scrutiny following other recent crashes. The car-maker says the function is not designed to avoid a collision and warns drivers not to rely on it entirely.

Additional reporting by AP

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